A Colorado teenage girl raised in the Denver suburbs of Loveland and Arvada has been arrested on federal terror charges after being under suspicion of supporting al-Qaeda and planning violent acts. 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested in April after eight months of investigation by the FBI. The arrest was not disclosed until Wednesday, with authorities citing an active investigation.
Concern about the Colorado teen originated at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada where she began making regular appearances last October, walking around with a notebook and backpack. On Sundays Conley would visit children’s Sunday school classes and wander around the church and campus making notes. Church members began to notice the unusual behavior and brought it to the attention of Pastor George Morrison and church security officers. When church members tried to engage her in faith discussions, or asked to see her notebook, she would become confrontational.
Morrison contacted the FBI about Conley’s suspicious activity, and agents began monitoring and investigating her last September. Faith Bible Chapel already has Arvada police officers attending Sunday services, since a shooter attack on church grounds in December 2007 that killed two people and wounded two others. The police officers had already noted the Colorado teenager’s unusual activity.
The Faith Bible Chapel members’ uneasiness increased with their “Annual Israel Awareness Day” approaching in October. For more than 35 years the church has invited local Jewish people for informational discussions about Israel. With the Colorado teen’s strange behavior in mind church leaders set up new security protocols, planning to inspect backpacks or large bags, or ask people to leave them in their cars.
The FBI introduced themselves to the Colorado teenager in November, and in the months before her arrest she fell under increased suspicion of al-Qaeda sympathies, vowing support to a jihad. She openly expressed antagonism toward Faith Bible Chapel because of their support of Israel. Conley told one FBI agent that she hated “those people” for supporting Israel, and said that “if they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.” Records show that she knew she was speaking to the FBI, who warned her for months that her actions could lead to imprisonment.
Conley met a man on the Internet who identified himself as a terrorist associated with the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and developed an online romantic relationship with him. The Colorado teen, who was a convert to Islam, planned to travel overseas to marry the man, whom she believed was a Tunisian fighting in Syria with an al-Qaida splinter group. He invited her to come to the Middle East and join the jihad. She told the FBI that she wanted to help wage a holy war against the forces attacking Islam. She called herself a “slave of Allah” on her Facebook page. Conley received military training through the U.S. Army Explorers according to court papers, and the FBI said that she wanted to fight.
Conley’s family moved to Arvada about two years ago. Neighbors said after about a year Conley began wearing a headscarf and dressing in traditional Muslim garb. People who had contact with her over the past few months expressed shock today upon hearing she had been arrested for conspiring to help terrorists.
The Colorado teen was arrested at Denver International Airport April 8 when she checked some suspicious luggage containing al-Qaeda related CDs and DVDs and attempted to board a plane to Turkey. If convicted Conley could face a $250,000 fine, up to 15 years in prison, or both.
By Beth A. Balen
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