DENVER (AP) -- A 19-year-old woman could face up to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to trying to help Islamic State militants, but her sentence depends at least in part on how helpful she was to U.S. authorities still investigating her case and others like it.
Shannon Conley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization in September under a deal that requires her to divulge information she may have about other Americans with similar intentions. A sentencing hearing began Friday afternoon.
FBI agents say Conley, who was arrested in April while boarding a flight that she hoped would ultimately get her to Syria, wanted to marry a suitor she met online who told her he was fighting with the extremists. She repeatedly told them she wanted to fight alongside him or use her skills as a nurse's aide to help.
Authorities became aware of Conley's growing interest in extremism in November 2013 after she started talking about terrorism with employees of a suburban Denver church. They had seen her wandering around and taking notes on the layout of the campus, according to court documents.
FBI agents met repeatedly with Conley starting in late 2013 hoping to dissuade her from leaving, suggesting she pursue humanitarian work instead. But she told them she was intent on waging jihad in the Middle East, even though she knew it was illegal, according to court documents. She believed it was her only answer to correcting what she saw as wrongs perpetrated against the Muslim world.
After her arrest, authorities say they found CDs by U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki among her belongings.
Conley, a convert to Islam, was exploring her faith when she was led astray, her attorney Robert Pepin has said. She was unaware of the atrocities committed by the Islamic State group, and since her arrest she is no longer interested in traveling to Syria to help extremists wage violent jihad.
But in declining to release her before her sentencing, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore noted that even though Conley was cooperative with FBI agents during their investigation, she remained intent on going overseas.
Her case comes as U.S. officials are putting new energy into trying to understand what radicalizes people far removed from the fight and trying to prod countries to do a better job of keeping them from joining up.