Shock, sadness after Colorado teen's arrest on charges of trying to help terrorists

  • Article by: P. SOLOMON BANDA , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 5:10 PM

ARVADA, Colo. — She was a memorable figure in this western Denver suburb, a teenager wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf and dress, sitting alone on a park swing or walking into a Christian church with a backpack and notebook.

People who encountered 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley over the past few months said Thursday they were shocked, unnerved or simply sad to learn she had been arrested on charges of conspiring to help terrorists.

"I feel sorry for her," said Mary Beth Brugler, a member of Faith Bible Chapel, where Conley visited several times last fall before concerned church officials asked her to leave.

"She needs a lot of prayer," Brugler said.

The FBI says Conley was a convert to Islam who was planning to travel overseas and marry a man she believed was a Tunisian fighting with an al-Qaida splinter group in Syria. She told FBI agents she wanted to help wage holy war against forces attacking Islam, according to court documents.

Conley wanted to fight, the FBI said, but if she couldn't, she would use her skills as a licensed nurse's aide to help jihadi warriors.

The FBI said Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport in April while boarding a plane on the first leg of a trip to a town in Turkey three hours from the Syrian border. Authorities didn't disclose her arrest until Wednesday, citing an active investigation.

Conley's attorney didn't return calls Wednesday and was out of the office Thursday. Her father declined to comment.

Conley's family moved into an Arvada cul-de-sac in the past two years or so, neighbors said, and about a year ago she began wearing a headscarf.

On her Facebook page, she called herself a "slave of Allah," and one of her posts — now removed — linked to a YouTube video about British women joining fighting in Syria.

Neighbor Bob Taylor recalls seeing her in a headscarf and long dress, sitting on swing in a nearby park for about a half hour at a time.

"I thought it was meditation or something. It just looked unusual," Taylor said.

"I was shocked, and it's a little unnerving, scary, you know," he said of her arrest. "In here, you don't expect that, you know, as neighbors."

In October she began showing up at Faith Bible Chapel, sometimes with a backpack, said Jason King, an associate pastor. That caught the attention of security personnel at the church, where a gunman killed two missionary workers in 2007.

"We did ask her what she was doing here, because our first heart is to help and serve anyone," King said. "So as she was walking around, she was acting a little different, so we just wanted to have a conversation with her."

Brugler, who serves Sunday coffee and breakfast to worshippers at the church's small cafe, said Conley ordered biscuits and gravy one morning.

"She asked me if it contained meat," Brugler recalled. "I said, 'Yes.' She cursed and threw it in the trash."

Church officials eventually asked her to leave.

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