Arvada teen who wanted to help ISIS sentenced to 4 years in prison

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER -- Shannon Conley, 19, of Arvada was sentenced to four years in federal prison Friday after pleading guilty to wanting to join ISIS jihad.  The judge also sentenced her to 100 hours community service. Conley also faces three years on supervised release for conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

She adopted a new Muslim first name and prepared a new hairstyle for her sentencing Friday. She prefers to go by Amatullah, she told CNN during a visit to her jailhouse Thursday.

The name means female "servant of Allah," she said. Conley initially took the name Halima after converting to Islam. She will become one of the first Americans sentenced for conspiracy to support ISIS.

Conley attracted national attention last year after authorities arrested her at Denver International Airport. Investigators said she told them she was going to Turkey to await word from an ISIS member in Syria -- a man she met on the Internet and planned to marry.

According to court documents, she intended to become a nurse in an ISIS camp. She is a Colorado certified nurse's aide.

She wore a headscarf in court Friday and cried while she read her statement. She had to take a brief break and sit down and compose herself. "I disavow these radical views.”  (referring to her views on being willing to wage jihad.)

Said she was “horrified” as she watched the actions of ISIS since her arrest. “I am sincerely grateful to the FBI for preventing me from gong to Syria,” and added they probably saved her life.

Conley has been behind bars nine-and-a-half months and said, “I started my incarceration hateful. I have grown. I do not believe I am a threat to society and would appreciate the chance to prove it.”

Federal Judge Raymond Moore didn't buy it. “She is drawn to extremism and likes to shock people. Defiance has been part of her fabric for a long time and that’s concerning.”

“I’m still not sure she gets it,” he said. He was referring to the idea that he does not think she understands that no matter what her religious beliefs are, she cannot break the law.

Both Judge Moore and the prosecutor indicated they are not totally convinced she is not a danger, and that she might not use her Islamic beliefs to justify criminal acts. The judge said, “I’m still not sure what’s been crystalized in your mind.”

Shannon Conley's family issued a statement late Friday night. Read it here.

Here are three key questions about her case:

1. What does she say about her crime?

Conley seemed friendly and nervous Thursday, sometimes hesitant to say anything that would upset her attorney, who wasn't present.

She was happy to talk about less-sensitive matters such as her new coiffure: a tight braid to her dark brown hair, arranged in four or five rows. She wasn't wearing a Muslim headscarf.

"Oh, this is for tomorrow," Conley said about her new hairstyle for the sentencing in federal court.

She declined to go into detail, however, about her pending punishment, in which she is facing a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. She pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist group.

"I'm in a vulnerable place right now, and it would be stupid of me to talk to you when I'm vulnerable," she told CNN during a video conference visit in the Jefferson County Detention Facility in Golden, which didn't allow any on-camera taping.

She didn't want to talk about her crime.

"No comment," she said. "Didn't you learn your lesson last time?"

That was a reference to CNN's prior jailhouse visit, in which Conley said her attorney had advised her against talking to the media about her case.

But Conley did acknowledge a measure of transformation since her arrest and jailing pending her sentence. That's why she changed her name, she said.

"I'm a different person than when I came in," she explained.

2. What does her family say about her?

Her mother, AnaMaria, was blunt.

"She was clueless. She's just a teenager, young, with a big mouth," the mother told CNN last year. "I think another time, another place, she would just be another kid with a big mouth."

ISIS is extremely savvy with its Internet propaganda, and her daughter was a victim of the jihadist group, AnaMaria Conley said. The mother worries about other impressionable young Americans.

"I hope that justice rather than fear will prevail," the mother said.

She and her husband, John, were aware of their daughter's conversion to Islam but didn't know about her interest in extreme Islam or jihad.

John Conley reportedly caught his daughter talking to her "suitor," a 32-year-old Tunisian man, on Skype. The couple asked for the father's blessing, but he said no.

On April 1, the father called the FBI to report that he had found her ticket for an April 8 flight to Turkey on his desk.

3. How much evidence do prosecutors have?

The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force were tipped off to Conley's suspicious activity in November 2013, when the pastor and security director of Faith Bible Chapel told local police that Conley was wandering around campus and taking notes, court papers said.

The church's main campus in Arvada was the scene of a gunman's fatal shooting in 2007.

When church staff confronted Conley about her notes, she allegedly told them: "Why is the church worried about a terrorist attack?" and that terrorists are "... not allowed to kill aging adults and little children," according to court papers.

Church officials asked her not to return.

In an interview with the FBI the following month, she said she joined the U.S. Army Explorers to receive military training and intended to use the firearm skills to go overseas to wage jihad, court papers said.

Over five months, authorities interviewed her seven times.

Conley told them that "jihad must be waged to protect Muslim nations," court papers said. She preferred to wage jihad overseas, to be with jihad fighters.

Conley told investigators she "would be defending Muslims on the Muslim homeland against people who are trying to kill them," according to court documents.

Conley told her parents that her knowledge of Islam was based solely on research she had conducted on the Internet.

Four days before Conley's April 8 flight, federal investigators again questioned her about whether she would engage in actual combat on the ISIS battlefield.

"If it was absolutely necessary, then yes. I wouldn't like it ... but I would do it," she told authorities, according to court papers.

But, she added about her ISIS suitor in Syria: "He's the man, he should be doing the fighting."

CNN contributed to this report

AlertMe
Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.