Nineteen-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley, a nurse from Denver, was prepared to give up her life and move to Syria to meet a jihadist claiming to be a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and upon being arrested attempting to fly to Turkey in April, she openly admitting to supporting the jihadist cause.
According to federal indictment documents released this week, Conley appears to suffer from mental problems, but she was repeatedly warned by the FBI that she should cut communications with a man she knew only as “Y.M.” She met Y.M. on the Internet, and he converted her to the jihadist cause. Conley planned to marry the man, who claimed to be Tunisian, upon arrival to the Middle East. The Daily Mail reports that Conley was arrested at the Denver Airport with luggage filled with jihadist literature, including CDs labeled “Anwar Al-Awlaki,” the name of the former Al Qaeda leader. Despite the fact that ISIS and Al Qaeda are no longer affiliated and, in fact, are rival organizations, Conley was also found carrying Al Qaeda literature, though her proposed goal was to help ISIS fight in Syria.
The 19-year-old also openly admitted to studying nursing to be able to help ISIS jihadists on the battlefield.
The Associated Press reports that Conley was a convert to Islam and her parents were aware of her new religion, but not her extremism. “Conley felt that Jihad is the only answer to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world,” according to court documents indicting her with providing material support to a terrorist organization. FBI agents had long followed Conley and encouraged her parents to meet with officials at her mosque, as well as listen for any signs of growing extremism from their daughter.
Local outlet The Denver Channel provides additional details about the woman who would leave her American life to fight jihad, considered one of the first converts with no ethnic or national ties to the region to join ISIS. Conley first appeared on the radar of federal authorities last November, upon being spotted taking notes on the layout of Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado. The chapel administrators reported her suspicious behavior, and the FBI was soon at her door.
“If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am,” Conley reportedly told investigators upon being arrested in April. Direct attempts to persuade her to abandon jihad and instead pursue her religion peacefully failed, and The Denver Channel notes that Conley firmly told FBI officials she was comfortable with collateral damage, including women and children, who were killed during attacks on United States targets. Despite her firm standing on jihad, the affidavit notes that Conley “conceded her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own research that she conducted on the Internet.”
Conley’s is yet another case that highlights the distinct threat ISIS poses to the Western world. As a group composed largely of Western ex-pats, ISIS jihadists are well-versed in the ways of the Western Internet and deliberately attempt to convert Americans, British citizens, Australians, and others to the cause of jihad. Rather than trading exclusively in gruesome photos of the violence of jihad, ISIS uses imagery of children and animals in attempts to claim the mantle of helping needy Muslims–one which Conley apparently wholeheartedly believed, as she told officials jihad was a cause to help oppressed Muslims internationally.