Colorado Teen Shannon Conley Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Trying to Join ISIS

People/January 26, 2015

By Steve Helling

A 19-year-old Denver woman who attempted to fly to Syria to join ISIS has been sentenced to four years in prison.

On April 8, 2014, Shannon Conley went to Denver International Airport and checked her baggage for a flight heading to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, she planned to fly to Turkey, and hoped to end up in Syria. Authorities arrested her before her flight left Denver.

According to an FBI criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE, Conley told authorities that she had struck up an online relationship with a 32-year-old man who claimed to be in Syria fighting on behalf of ISIS. She planned to join him on the battlefield. "Conley stated that if she cannot fight, she will still be supporting his cause," the complaint reads.

Her Troubling History
According to the criminal complaint, the FBI first learned of Conley in November 2013 when she wandered into a Christian church and began sketching the layout of the campus. Church staff called authorities, who questioned the young woman.

"I hate those people," she allegedly said of the church members to FBI agents. "If they think I'm a terrorist, I'll give them something to think I am." She claimed that she was simply pretending to diagram the church to alarm parishioners.

The complaint alleges that authorities had repeatedly tried to dissuade Conley from violent criminal activity – but she was undeterred. "Conley advised that if she had enough money to do anything she wanted, she would travel for jihad or fund whatever was needed for the cause," says the complaint.

Conley, a licensed nurse's aide, had joined the US Army Explorer in 2013 to be trained in U.S. Military tactics and firearms. "She said she intended to use that training to go overseas and wage jihad," the complaint reads. "She also intended to train Islamic jihadi fighters in US military tactics."

Her Distraught Parents
Concerned about Conley's plans, the FBI reached out to her parents, John and Ana Conley, asking them to engage their daughter in candid conversation to determine her true views.

Ana told authorities that her daughter had taken a rifle to a local range to practice shooting. John said that his daughter, "conceded her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own research that she conducted on the Internet."

After learning about the suitor, John and Ana confronted their daughter. "They stated that they did not provide their blessing, nor their support for her travel and marriage," reads the complaint. [She] was going to travel and marry anyway without their blessing."

'I Didn't Want To Hurt Anyone'
In court on Friday, Conley was sentenced. Wearing a black and tan headscarf with her striped prison uniform, she tearfully told the judge that she had been misled by people who had misconstrued the Quran.

"I am glad I have learned of their true identity here and not on the front lines," she said. "I disavow these radical views I've come to know and I now believe in the true Islam in which peace is encouraged."

"Even though I was committed to the idea of jihad, I didn't want to hurt anyone," she continued. "It was all about defending Muslims."

But U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore wasn't convinced, saying that he doubted that Conley had really altered her views, and that she could use psychological help. "I'm don't know what has been crystalized in your mind," he said. "I'm not going to take a chance with you."

After spending four years in prison, Conley will then serve three years of supervised release. She will also have to complete 100 hours of community service.

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