Colo. Wannabe Terror Teen Sentenced to Four Years

Shannon Conley, a 19 year old from Arvada, CO was sentenced to four years in federal prison today.

She actually caught a big break. Had she not agreed to cooperate and plead guilty, for which the feds agreed to let her plead to the catch-all conspiracy charge under 18 USC Section 371, which carries a five year maximum sentence, she would have been facing a lot more time. Her sentencing guidelines, according to her plea agreement, were 25 to 30 years.

What did she do? From her plea agreement (in which she admits the following): She met a guy online named Yousr Mouelhi who said he was with ISIS. They agreed on the need for violent jihad. They decided to get married and made plans for her to travel to Turkey. But first, to improve her jihadist skills, she enrolled in in the volunteer US Army Explorers (USAE)program and received training in military tactics and firearms.[More...]

After receiving her training, Mouelhi bought her a plane ticket from Denver to Frankfurt to Turkey. She was arrested as she was boarding her flight.

Prior to this, she worked as a certified nursing assistant caring for the elderly and the infirm.

This was not a sting operation. The F.B.I. had contacted her months before her planned flight, because a church pastor reported her for stalking, and she voluntarily met with them several times, knowing they were FBI agents. The affidavit for the Complaint (D.E. #28) describes the numerous discussions and the agents' repeated attempts to talk her out of going overseas. They even tried to convince her to do humanitarian work in Syria, rather than engage in violent jihad, but she refused. She said it was not an option because it would not solve the problem. Jihad was necessary. She showed them a book on guerilla warfare. The agents write:

The book had several passages underlined by Conley, including motorcade attacks and waging guerilla warfare. Conley stated that attacking a motorcade in the US was not viable because security in the US is too good. Conley thought she could plan such an attack, but not carry it out. Conley liked the idea of guerilla warfare because she could do it alone.

The agents report this conversation with her:

According to Conley, it is acceptable to attack westerners when engaged in “defensive Jihad.” Conley stated that legitimate targets of attack include military facilities and personnel, government facilities and personnel, and public officials. When asked if this includes law enforcement, Conley replied that it does. According to Conley, law enforcement is included because police enforce man-made laws that are not grounded in God’s law. Conley stated targets to be avoided include women, children, and the elderly.

The agents say they informed her several times she would be committing a crime if she tried went overseas to fight for or aid a terror group and tried to talk her out of going. She didn't care.

The FBI then enlisted the aid of her parents. They had no better luck. Her parents told the FBI her views had become more extreme and she had met a 32 year old Tunisian suitor whom she wanted to marry. She told her parents they would live in Syria, and she asked for her father's blessing. He refused to give it. When her parents could not dissuade her, and they found her one way plane ticket to Turkey, they told the FBI.

Conley was arrested after checking her luggage at the airport and in the process of boarding her flight. Her booked flights were from Denver to Frankfurt, then to Istanbul, and then to Adana, which is a 3 hour drive to the Syrian border.

When the feds later searched her home, they found videos by Anwar al-Awlaki and other jihadist materials.

Conley insisted at her sentencing that she didn't mean to harm anyone. She said she was just trying to protect Muslims. Judge Moore, before imposing sentence, said:

"That woman is in need of psychiatric help," U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said before sentencing Shannon Conley. "She's a bit of a mess."..."To me, it doesn't seem like she gets it," the judge said."

In an earlier motion for bond, her lawyer wrote:

The Court should know the following. Ms. Conley is Muslim. She intends to remain a Muslim. However, as she was exploring her faith she was exposed to teachings through which she was terribly misled. She knows she was misled. She is eager for further study and has no intention of pursuing the course she was on when she went to Denver International Airport on April 8th.

Clearly, the woman has issues and they go well beyond religion. (She told agents she was self-taught and learned everything she knew about Islam on the internet.) Will she receive the help she needs in prison? Unlikely, but given her determination, her refusal to heed the agents' repeated warnings, and her belief that U.S. facilities and personnel are legitimate targets, the judge had few other options.

Should the FBI have just let her go to Syria to meet whatever fate awaited her there? I think the lone (and often looney) wolves who never leave home pose more of a danger to their home countries than returning fighters. Maybe we should just let them go.

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    um, yeah, i think she is mentally ill. (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by cpinva on Sun Jan 25, 2015 at 07:57:58 AM EST
    she is clearly delusional. thinks she's met her soul mate on the internet. has never met him in person, but plans to marry him. I'm going to go out on a short limb, and guess she has undiagnosed learning disabilities, has never had many, if any, friends, especially not bf's. she spends her days with elderly/infirm people, not the most socially/intellectually stimulating environment for a 19 year-old.

    we have a very, very lonely teenager (only an adult by act of law) who is suddenly "wanted" by someone who, by virtue of being foreign, seems very exotic. all she needs to do is fly half-way around the world, and agree to engage in murderous activity.

    yeah, she seems very normal. and no, she probably won't get the help she so very obviously needs while in prison. so she'll come out in four years just as screwed up as she went in, if not more so.

    Leaves one a little speachless... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jim in St Louis on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 04:23:01 AM EST
    It seems everyone who has had contact with this chick agrees that she is a little off the bubble, but not mentally ill.  

    The charge seems vague and undefined, I'm not sure what crime she committed that warrants sending her to prison. I know conspiracy is what she will go to jail for; but what actions did she take that are criminal? Planning to go overseas with the internet BF and wage jihad.  
    I don't want to minimize the threat-but the libertarian streak in me says that until she actually harms somebody we need to let them be.
    I don't know how to reconcile that with the need to keep the public safe if this looney goes off the rails.


    What crime? Well, for starters consider (none / 0) (#5)
    by Peter G on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 11:49:29 AM EST
    the federal crime of "providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization." I'm sure there are several more in that chapter of the U.S. Code.

    Seems completely (none / 0) (#2)
    by FlJoe on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 07:01:57 AM EST
    legit to me. If somebody was threatening to shoot up
    a school in this country you would certainly lock them up. Apparently the FBI tried to talk her out of it, when
    she refused to listen they had no choice but to arrest. Imagine the hue and cry if they had let her go and she later shoots up a cafe or shows up in a ISIS clip.

    No big fan of the of the FBI and JD actions re. terrorism, some of it verging on entrapment and thought crime but this time I think justice was served.

    oddly enough... (none / 0) (#7)
    by thomas rogan on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 05:32:08 PM EST
    You don't get prison time for threatening to shoot up a school.  What's the charge--"Menacing"?  They nabbed her because of terrorism laws.
    Why not let her go to Syria?  You can bet dollars to doughnuts that in Syria they would train her to lie better, train her in suicide bombing, and send her to the US to do a suicide bombing here going under the radar.  You know, female American native suicide bomber doesn't exactly get profiled.

    What's the charge? That would vary (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Peter G on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 08:43:44 PM EST
    state by state. Here in Pennsylvania, it's called "terroristic threats" and carries a maximum penalty of five to seven years, depending on aggravating circumstances. A "guidelines sentence" (again, in Pennsylvania) for someone with no prior record would be up to nine months in jail.

    The whole thing (none / 0) (#3)
    by lentinel on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 11:08:19 AM EST
    sounds looney to me...

    To whit:

    They even tried to convince her to do humanitarian work in Syria, rather than engage in violent jihad, but she refused. She said it was not an option because it would not solve the problem. Jihad was necessary.

    They know she's going to Syria to enlist in jihad.
    They say, gee, couldn't you do humanitarian work instead?
    She say, no. Nyet. Huh uh. Gotta blow things up. Jihad.

    So they, presumably leave - shrugging - we tried..

    Now - what if she had said - you know what? Humanitarianism is for me! Thanks for opening my eyes.
    Then they say what? A job well done. Good luck in Syria?

    I dunno.

    A kinder, gentler FBI meets Minority Report (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 11:39:27 AM EST
    Absolutely bizarre.  But I like this new improved FBI.  She may not have appeared to be enough of a threat to do the usual entrapment thing.

    Still smell the stench (none / 0) (#6)
    by FlJoe on Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 12:06:01 PM EST
    Of the killing of the Boston bombers buddy in Orlando and don't get me started on the anthrax case. The FBI are old hats at this police state business.

    Interesting case. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 12:45:14 PM EST

    It is hard to imagine a 19 year old male getting a sentence that light for the same behavior.

    Interesting point (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jim in St Louis on Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 02:03:38 PM EST
    that I had not considered. But your right--if the same circumstances and change it to a male suspect and I think there would have been much longer jail time.

    A male? They would sequed into total (none / 0) (#12)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Jan 31, 2015 at 11:50:58 AM EST
    entrapment mode.  They would have paid him to stay here.  They would have given him guns, ammo,knives, fake bomb materials.  They would have provided fake online accomplices.  They'd have given him "official al qaeda uniforms," like Florida's Liberty City Seven, and maybe even the sneakers.  To cap it, they'd have even given him a ghost writer to pump up his online rants.  A male would have been toast.