Arvada woman pleads guilty to conspiracy to help ISIS


Shannon Conley

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DENVER -- A 19-year-old Arvada woman accused of trying to help ISIS agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors Wednesday morning.

Shannon Conley plead guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization.  In the plea deal, she agreed to provide details about conspirators.

Conley faces up to five years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh.  She will be sentenced in January.

Before sentencing the judge, who accepted Conley's plea, said he wanted a psychological exam.

Conley's public defender said she was "horrified" by ISIS acts in recent months including the beheading of two American journalists. Being arrested likely saved the young woman's life the lawyer said.

Conley has been in federal custody since FBI agents arrested her at Denver International Airport in April as she was allegedly on her way to help ISIS.

The FBI had watched Conley for months.  According to Walsh, Conley met a co-conspirator online and started talking discussing how Islam required participation in violent jihad.

The co-conspirator told Conley that he was fighting to ISIS in Syria and the two decided to become engaged, Walsh said. Together they worked to have Conley travel to Syria to join her new fiancé, he said.

Officials say Conley joined the U.S. Army Explorers (USAE) to be trained in U.S. military tactics and in firearms.  She traveled to Texas for USAE training and also received a first aid/nursing certification and National Rifle Association certification.

When agents searched her home, they found DVDs of lectures by Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamic militant, and a number of books and articles about Al-Qaeda, its affiliate groups and jihad, Walsh said.

Conley's actions were hardly covert and several times FBI agents "met with her in extraordinary attempts to persuade her not to carry out her plans to travel overseas to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization," Walsh said.

Officials say Conley started talking about terrorism at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada in November.  The pastor there said he felt Conley was a "terrorist wannabe" but none-the-less called the FBI.

"These FBI agents clearly knew that this is a disturbed young woman (and) not a major terrorist threat," legal analyst Dan Recht said.

A fellow student at Regis University noticed she wore unusual clothing and said Conley switched from several religions in a matter of six months, finally settling on Islam.

He said she introduced herself as Halima, a name she also posted on her Facebook page.

When Conley made arrangements with her co-conspirator to fly to Turkey, she was arrested by FBI agents at DIA in April. Conley confessed she planned to marry a terrorist she met online and join ISIS, officials said.

"It seems as though the federal government is going to have to come down hard on her to create a deterrent," Recht said.

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