On Wednesday Shannon Conley, a 19-year-old from Colorado, pleaded guilty to attempting to support ISIS, the terrorist group which has seized control over significant parts of Syria and Iraq.
The story of how Conley became involved with the group, and why she wanted to join the fighting in Syria, is told in the FBI’s official criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.
Singed by Christian Byrne, a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the document follows Conley from when she first raised suspicions until her arrest 5 months later while attempting to board a plane from the Denver International Airport.
Here’s what the document tells us:
A Pastor Reported She May Have Been Planning A Shooting
The pastor and security director of the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada reported to police that Conley was behaving suspiciously in October 2013. The Chapel was the site of a fatal shooting in 2007.
Staff reported that Conley was wandering around the church campus wearing a hijab and writing in a notebook, which they suspected may have been an attempt to map out the layout of the campus.
Staff said Conley refused to show them her notes. She later told police they were following her and treating her like a terrorist, so she decided to diagram the church to alarm them, according to the complaint.
“If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am,” Conley allegedly told police.
Google Street View
Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, where Conley was seen suspiciously wandering the campus.
Not Too Interested In Secrecy
Conley spoke openly with local police and FBI on a consistent basis. According to the complaint, “Conley stated she wanted to wage jihad and would like to go overseas to fight. She further stated that if she is not allowed to fight because she is a woman, she will use her medical training to aid jihadi fighters.”
“Conley stated that legitimate targets of attack include military facilities and personnel, government facilities and personnel, and public officials,” the complaint states.
“When asked if this includes law enforcement, Conley replied that it does. According to Conley, law enforcement is included because police enforce man-made laws that are not grounded in God’s law. Conley stated targets to be avoided include women, children, and the elderly.”
On this Facebook account apparently belonging to Conley, she posted frequently about Islam. Conley was not secretive about her religion or her plans, she spoke openly with FBI investigators.
She Wanted To Get Training From The US Army
In an interview with two overt FBI agents, Conley allegedly said she joined the US Army Explorers so she could gain training in US military tactics and firearms.
“She said she intended to use that training to go overseas to wage jihad. She also intended to train Islamic jihadi fighters in US military tactics,” the complaint says.
The complaint says she originally wanted to join the US military, but chose the Explorers because it sounded fun and “because she will never be deployed and they will let her wear a hijab.”
Over a weekend in February 2014 she allegedly attended the camp, telling agents “she enjoyed it and benefitted from it.” Conley also showed investigators a book she was reading about practical Al Qaida guerrilla warfare.
U.S. Army / Timothy L. Hale
Conley decided against joining the army, instead taking a weekend course with the US Army Explorers.
There Was A (Rough) Plan
According to the complaint, Conley was at one point planning to go to Morocco with friends from Colorado in February. The document reports, “Conley said she planned to tell her family about her jihad plans once she was out of the US as there was nothing they would be able to do about it then.”
From there, she planned to travel to Iraq and make contact with a “friend of a friend” who would help her find a jihadist training camp. She didn’t know the person’s name, where they lived, or what exactly they would do for her.
However, her plans changed when she spoke to agents three months later. She said she knew an ISIS fighter in Syria who would be her suitor. Her contacts had bought her a flight to Turkey so she could join them at the border with Syria, she said.
According to the complaint, she told investigators she had been asked to send money but declined because it would be illegal. She also said she had no intention of returning to the US. She had resolved to aid ISIS fighters as a nurse and housewife, stating she would be reluctant to join the actual fighting, the complaint said.
via VICE News
Conley planned to travel to the Turkish/Syrian border where she would aid ISIS in the fight against the Assad regime and other groups in Syria.
Authorities Tried To Get Her To Back Out
What is perhaps most striking about the document is the lengths the FBI apparently went to in order to dissuade Conley from her chosen path. FBI agents who identified themselves as such brought up humanitarian groups, suggesting she could aid fellow Muslims by joining the Red Crescent, an organisation similar to the Red Cross.
In late March, a Muslim Special Agent, Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, met with Conley in “an overt attempt to dissuade Conley from violent criminal activity.” According to the report, she was repeatedly told her plan may be illegal but said she had not changed her mind, although would research what was discussed.
The FBI also contacted Conley’s parents, Ana and John Conley, and told them of their daughter’s plans. Agents encouraged the couple to speak with Conley further about her religious views and to expose her to moderate Muslims.
Conley’s father allegedly told officers he had followed their instructions, and was surprised by how radical his daughter’s views had become.
Days later, John told officers his daughter had met a 32-year-old Tunisian man over Skype, and asked his permission to marry the man in Syria. She was apparently surprised when he refused to give his consent. He later found an airline ticket from Denver to Turkey on his desk.
AP / Brennan Linsley
Shannon Conley’s parents, Ana and John Conley, exit the U.S. Federal courthouse following their daughter’s guilty plea last Wednesday.
She Was Arrested At The Airport
On April 8, Conley went to Denver International Airport and checked in baggage for the first leg of her flight, from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany. FBI Agents arrested Conley as she walked down the sky-way to board the flight. The 19-year-old waived her right to remain silent and gave a statement to agents.
“Conley told agents that she planned to fly to Turkey and wait there until associates of her suitor contacted her. These associates would then take Conley into Syria to meet up with her suitor,” the complaint states.
Conley pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq. She faces up to five years in prison, according to CNN. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for her.
Her public defender, Robert Pepin, released the following statement that CNN reprinted:
“She’s also a 19-year-old woman of faith who was pursuing her faith and, unfortunately, as she pursued it she was led terribly astray,” the statement said. “That, in turn, led her to make some poor choices and she is now paying the price of those choices.”
Since her arrest, Pepin said, “the news out of the part of the world to which she was headed has been just awful.”
“Like all of us, Halima has been horrified to learn of the slaughter and oppression at the hands of the people controlling ISIS,” Pepin said in the statement.
“It was never her vision to have any role in any of that. She would like everyone to know that her heart … and her prayers go out to … the families of those who have been killed, and to anyone who has been oppressed by those forces. Finally, Halima is fully aware that the fact that she was arrested may have very well saved her.
You can read the full complaint here:
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