FBI agents tried more than once to discourage a 19-year-old suburban Denver woman who said she was intent on waging jihad in the Middle East before arresting her in April as she boarded a flight she hoped would ultimately get her to Syria, court documents unsealed Wednesday show.
Shannon Maureen Conley had told agents that she wanted to use her American military training from the US Army Explorers to start a holy war overseas, even though she knew that it was illegal, according to the newly released federal court records. Her "legitimate targets of attack" included military facilities, government employees and public officials, the documents say.
Conley, a Muslim convert, was arrested April 8 at Denver International Airport, telling agents she planned to live with a suitor she met online, apparently a Tunisian man who claimed to be fighting for an al-Qaida splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militant group also known as ISIL or ISIS has recently overrun parts of Iraq and Syria.
Conley has been charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization. Her federal public defender did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
A nurse's aide, Conley told investigators she planned to fly to Turkey and then travel to Syria to become a housewife and a nurse at the man's camp, providing medical services and training.
FBI agents became aware of Conley's growing interest in extremism in November after she started talking about terrorism with employees of a suburban Denver church who found her wandering around and taking notes on the layout of the campus, according to the court documents. The church, Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, was the scene of a 2007 shooting in which a man killed two missionary workers.
She spoke with agents several times after that, telling them of her desire for jihad, the records state. The agents tried openly to dissuade her, urging her instead to support Muslims through humanitarian efforts, which she told them was not an option.
"Conley felt that Jihad is the only answer to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world," the documents say.
Agents encouraged Conley's parents to get her to meet with elders at her mosque to find more moderate options. Her parents knew she had converted to Islam but were apparently unaware of her extremism, authorities said.
Her father told an agent in March that Conley and her suitor had asked for his blessing to marry and were surprised when he declined. Her father later found a one-way plane ticket to Turkey.
Four days before her arrest, she told agents "there was nothing they could do to change her mind and that she was still going." They stopped her as she was walking down the jetway.