DENVER — A suburban teenager who practiced shooting, sought military training and hoped to join violent jihad against Americans was arrested on the jetway as she tried to board a plane on a one-way trip to the Middle East, court documents show.
Shannon Conley, 19, was arrested in April at Denver International Airport by federal investigators who said they repeatedly warned that her actions were illegal. Court documents detailing the case against the teen were unsealed this week, and paint a picture of a self-isolated woman who fell in love with a Tunisian man online, converted to Islam after reading about it on the Internet and became obsessed with religious war.
FBI agents said Conley, a certified nurse's aid, sought and practiced military tactics so she could fight on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which recently seized portions of Iraq. She also showed them a book detailing guerrilla warfare tactics and said she could carry out jihad in America.
"Conley believed she, as a Muslim, needed to marry young and be confrontational in her support of Islam," a U.S. anti-terrorism agent wrote in an arrest affidavit. "Special Agent Khomssi admonished Conley twice in the conversation that travel with intent to wage jihad may be illegal and result in her arrest."
According to court documents:
• Conley first drew attention after she began loitering around Faith Bible Chapel in her hometown of Arvada, Colo., in the fall of 2013. The church was the site of a fatal shooting in 2007, and the pastor told federal agents that Conley was diagramming the facility and became confrontational. "When asked why she went to FBC for the last two months, Conley initially responded that, 'I hate those people' ... and ... reasoned that, 'If they think I'm a terrorist, I'll give them something to think I am.' "
• Federal officials met with or spoke to Conley eight times after that initial interview, asking her whether she really intended to harm Americans and suggesting she ought to consider aiding a non-profit such as the Red Crescent, which is the equivalent of the Red Cross. "Conley responded that humanitarian work is not an option because it does nothing to solve the problem. ... Conley stated that jihad must be waged to protect Muslim nations. Conley said she needed to go overseas to be trained in jihad, but did not need to be overseas to wage jihad."
• Conley in February 2014 underwent training in Texas with the U.S. Army Explorers, a youth organization offering military training for teens, and also practiced shooting rifles at a local range. Conley showed interviewers a book called Al-Qaida's Doctrine for Insurgency: Abd Al-Aziz Al-Muqrin's A Practical Course for Guerrilla War by Norman Cigar.
Conley's parents told agents they had grown alarmed by her views on Islam, which were "far more extreme" than they believed, and refused to let them see what Internet sites she had been visiting.
Her parents also told agents Conley sought but didn't get their permission to marry a Tunisian man fighting with ISIS in Syria, whom she had met online. Her parents found her one-way ticket to Turkey on April 1, and Conley was arrested April 8 as she tried to board a plane from Denver to Frankfurt on the first leg of a trip that would have ended at a Turkish airport three hours' drive from the Syrian border.
In her parents' house, agents said they found materials about jihad and al-Qaeda. They also reported recovering CD/DVDs labeled "Anwar al-Awlaki" — a former Colorado resident and dissident-turned-Islamic militant who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
Conley remains in federal custody and is charged with attempting to provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.