Arvada teen sentenced to 4 years in prison for ISIS terror plot

Photo: Shannon Conley
A school yearbook photo of Shannon Conley.

An Arvada girl who attempted to travel to Turkey to join ISIS was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Moore appeared unconvinced by Shannon Conley’s disavowal of jihad. He described her as, “a bit of a mess… and needs psychological help.”

Conley pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group.

About a year ago Conley began communicating with someone from the Middle East who said he was a member of ISIS. According to court documents, they both believed Islam required violent jihad.

So Conley, 19, attended training in firearms and U.S. military tactics in Texas. She obtained first aid certification. She became engaged to supposed ISIS member Yousr Mouelhi, and planned to travel to Turkey and marry him. A excerpt of the charging document reads:

When Conley told the suitor she wants to provide his camp with medical services and training, he told her that was good because they needed more nurses. Conley quoted her suitor as having said, “We need some nurses over here.” Conley stated that she was aware that her plans were potentially illegal and she could possibly get arrested, and therefore she has no intention to return to the US.

The FBI arrested her in April as she tried to board the airplane at DIA. Court documents show that law enforcement officials repeatedly tried to dissuade her from following through on her plans. Agents also met with Conley's parents, who said they were unaware of their daughter's intentions.

After Conley was arrested, agents searched her parents' Arvada home and found "materials about jihad and Al-Qaeda."

Her first brush with investigators was in late 2013, when she ran afoul of a pastor at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada. Documents say church staff observed her repeatedly wandering the campus and taking notes about its layout. They asked her to leave and contacted law enforcement. Agents interviewed her days later:

When asked why she went to FBC for the last two months, Conley initially responded that, “I hate those people.” According to Conley, she initially started visiting the FBC because she wanted to meet people of other faiths and learn about them. She started going to Sunday services and classes, but did not discuss her views and dressed in her hijab. Conley stated that does not like Israel or FBC’s active and vocal support for Israel. After a while, Conley noticed she was being followed and felt they treated her like a terrorist. Conley stated that she reasoned that, “If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.”

As part of Conley’s plea agreement, she has agreed to cooperate with investigators and possibly testify against her co-conspirators.

CPR's Nathaniel Minor contributed to this report.