Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

19-year-old Arvada woman, Shannon Maureen Conley, charged with aiding ISIS terror group, FBI says
Alan Gathright
7NEWS Denver | Jul 2, 2014

DENVER – The FBI says a 19-year-old Colorado woman has been arrested while trying to board a flight at Denver International Airport with the goal of meeting with a terrorist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

A federal criminal complaint states that between Sept. 7, 2013 and April 8, 2014, Shannon Maureen Conley, together with others, tried to provide material support and resources, including personnel and expert advice, to a foreign terrorist organization.

Conley, a Muslim convert, was arrested April 8 at DIA after telling FBI agents she was traveling to Syria to use her American military training from the U.S. Army Explorers to aid Islamic militants waging jihad — or holy war — even though she knew that it was illegal, according to federal court records released Wednesday.
She said "legitimate targets of attack" included U.S. military bases, government employees and public officials, the documents say.
Against her parents wishes, Conley planned to marry a Tunisian man, who was fighting in Syria for ISIS, an al-Qaida splinter group. She’d met the man online and communicated with him on Skype.
Conley has been charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization. She’s being held in Denver County Jail without bond.

ISIS insurgents have been fighting to topple the governments of Iraq and Syria.

— Conley raised suspicions at church —

Authorities began investigating Conley on Nov. 5, 2013, when the pastor at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada called local police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to report a teen had been spotted suspiciously taking notes at the church’s main campus at 6120 Ward Road on several Sundays at October, according to a federal affidavit supporting the criminal complaint.

Church officials have a heightened awareness about security because Faith Bible Chapel was the scene of a shooting in December 2007 when a man named Matthew Murray opened fire at the church’s Youth with a Mission Training Center, killing two missionaries. A few hours later, Murray went on a shooting spree at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, killing two more people. He was shot by a church security guard and eventually took his own life.

So Faith Bible Chapel staff reacted quickly when they believed Conley was taking notes on various locations and the layout of the campus, the affidavit said.

Church staff approached Conley and asked to see her notes, but she refused.

Conley then became confrontational with FBC staff, citing her own Islamic religious views, church officials told federal investigators.

"Conley made spontaneous statements to church staff to the effect of: ‘Why is the church worried about a terrorist attack?’ and, that terrorists are: ‘… not allowed to kill aging adults and little children,’" the complaint said.

Church officials told Conley not to return to the church campus.

— FBI interviews Conley in November —

On Nov. 7, 2013, an Arvada police detective and an FBI agent interviewed Conley, asking her why she has been visiting Faith Bible Chapel.

Conley said, "I hate those people." She added that she initially started attending Sunday services and taking classes at FBC because she wanted to meet people of other faiths and learn about them.

But Conley said she did not share her Islamic religious views or wear her hijab, a head covering worn in public by Muslim women.

Conley told the investigators she does not like Israel or FBC’s active and vocal support for Israel.

Conley said she noticed she was being followed by church staff on the campus and felt they treated her like a terrorist. Conley told the investigators that she reasoned that, "If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am," according to the affidavit.

She started keeping a notebook and acted like she was diagramming the church to alarm them. Conley soon got into an argument with the pastor and was asked to leave.

— Conley tells FBI she supports Jihad —

Conley said that Jihad to her is war against "kafir" (which the affidavit describes as a derogatory Arabic term for non-Muslims) to protect Muslim lands.

The investigators asked her opinion about harming innocent people while waging Jihad and Conley stated that it depended on the circumstances.

"To Conley, it is okay to harm innocents if they are part of a target. She felt that if wives, children, and chaplains visiting a military base are killed during an attack, it is acceptable because they should not have been at a legitimate target. She repeatedly referred to US military bases as ‘targets,’" an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Conley was again interviewed by FBI Special Agent Karim Khomssi and another agent.

— Conley joined U.S. Army Explorers —

Conley told the FBI she joined the U.S. Army Explorers to be trained in U.S. military tactics and in firearms. She said she intended to use that training to go overseas to wage Jihad, according to the affidavit.

Conley said she previously wanted to serve in the U.S. military, but no longer wanted to because she felt the military would not accept her because of her religious beliefs and her wearing of a hijab and niqab.

"Conley stated she wanted to wage Jihad and would like to go overseas to fight," the affidavit said. She added that if she’s not allowed to fight because she’s a woman, she would use her medical training, as a licensed nurse’s aide, to help Jihadi fighters.

"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," the affidavit stated.

When agents asked if her notion of legitimate targets includes law enforcement, Conley replied that it does, the affidavit said. Conley said, "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 affidavit said.

— Conley cannot be dissuaded by FBI —

Over the next five months, the FBI repeatedly interviewed Conley as she underwent U.S. Army Explorers training in Texas in early February.

During a March 27 interview, two FBI agents made an "overt attempt to dissuade Conley from violent criminal activity and give her the opportunity to turn away from her intention to participate in supporting terrorist activities."

Special Agent Khomssi "admonished Conley twice in the conversation that travel with intent to wage Jihad may be illegal and result in her arrest. Conley told SA Khomssi said she would rather be in prison than do nothing" to help the Jihadi cause, the affidavit said.

Conley earlier showed the agents a book called "Al-Qaida’s Doctrine for Insurgency: Abd Al-Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerilla War."

"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," the affidavit said. "Conley liked the idea of guerilla warfare because she could do it alone."

"When asked if she still wanted to carry out the plans, knowing they are illegal, Conley said that she does," the affidavit said.

The agents repeatedly asked Conley if she’d consider helping Muslims by doing humanitarian work, like using her nursing skills with the Red Crescent Society.

"Conley stated she has no interest in doing humanitarian work. Conley felt that Jihad is the only answer to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world. Conley said she preferred to wage Jihad overseas so she could be with Jihadist fighters," the affidavit said.

— Plans to meet ISIS fighter in Middle East —

Conley and her parents told FBI agents that she planned to travel to the Middle East to meet her "suitor," a 32-year-old Tunisian man who is an ISIS fighter in Syria. The teen said a one-way airline ticket had already been purchased for her.

In February, the FBI agents met with the teen’s parents, John and Ana Conley, with whom she lives in Arvada.

John Conley told the agents his daughter had "described Jihad to her father as struggles to help the oppressed or the poor."

But the teen also expressed some doubts.

"Conley explained to her father she felt conflicted with what she thought Islam required of her. Conley believed she, as a Muslim, needed to marry young and be confrontational in her support of Islam. She conceded her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own research that she conducted on the Internet," the affidavit said.

The parents said that they owned guns and that Shannon and a girlfriend had recently taken one of their rifles to practice marksmanship at a local shooting range.

The agents warned the parents that "their daughter has expressed, to overt FBI agents, her intention to travel overseas and commit violent Jihad." By "overt," the agents meant they weren’t operating undercover and she clearly knew to whom she was talking.

The agents asked the parents to engage their daughter in "candid conversation" to learn "her true views on Islam." The agents also asked the parents to encourage Shannon to speak with "elders at her mosque to discuss more moderate views," the affidavit stated.

— Conley’s family refuses to bless marriage —

After talking with his daughter, John Conley told an FBI agent her views on Islam "were far more extreme than he had previously thought."

The father said he found Shannon talking with her Tunisian suitor on Skype. At the time, Shannon and the man asked John Conley for his "blessing" for them to marry and for her to travel to Syria to marry the man as soon as possible.

The father told the FBI he denied both requests and Shannon and the man appeared surprised.

In April, John Conley called an FBI agent and reported that he’d found Shannon had a one-way ticket to fly from Denver International Airport to Turkey on April 8.

He and his wife confronted Shannon, telling her that they didn’t provide their blessing, nor did they support her travel to Syria and marriage.

"[Shannon] Conley was aware that Islam required the blessing of her family for her marriage, but told John she had thought about it and disagreed with Islam on the issue and was going to travel and marry anyway without their blessing," the affidavit said.

The FBI learned that she was scheduled to fly from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to Adnan, Turkey, where it is only a three-hour drive to the Syrian border.

On April 8, the FBI followed Shannon Conley as she traveled to DIA, checked in her bags and walked to the gate for her United Flight to Frankfurt.  Agents arrested her as she was walking down the jetway to board the plane.

In her luggage, agents found several CDs and DVDs labeled "Anwar al-Awlaki," a senior Al Qaeda leader and recruiter who was killed by a CIA-led U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Agents also found a folder with materials about providing first aid in the field. The teen was also carrying a list of contacts, including phone numbers for a person whose name was blacked out in the affidavit.

The FBI also searched Conley’s Arvada home.



I, the complainant in this case, state that the following is true to the best of my knowledge and belief:

Between and on or about September 7, 2013 through April 8, 2014, inclusive, in the State and District of Colorado and elsewhere, the defendant, Shannon Maureen CONLEY, together with others, did knowingly attempt to provide material support and resources, to wit: personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself) and expert advice or assistance, to a foreign terrorist organization, specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (“ISI”) or Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AAQI@), continuously designated since December 17, 2004, knowing that the organization was a designated terrorist organization, that the organization had engaged in and was engaging in terrorist activity and terrorism, and the offense occurred in whole or in part within the United States.

All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B.

View the complaint @


My Neighbor the Terrorist: A Bizarro Cinderella Story
Anne Evans
American Thinker | July 19, 2014

It’s a Bizarro Cinderella story. Nineteen-year-old Colorado girl, Shannon Conley, meets thirty-two year old Tunisian terrorist online. He asks her to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts and allegedly pledges to devote her life, (between most likely having innumerable babies), to using her nursing skills to bring wounded terrorists back to health.

There’s only one little hitch. This April, the U.S. Marshals showed up at Denver International Airport and arrested Miss Conley before she could hop aboard a jet bound for the Middle East.

Miss Conley lived only a few miles down the road from me. She attended our local high schools, (3 of them before dropping out for a GED), and briefly attended Faith Bible Church, which I drive by every day. Despite her rocky high school years, she ended up at a private university, Regis, and was working as a certified nurse aide. Not bad for a nineteen-year-old in this economy.

How does a local girl born and raised in normalcy start ranting about terrorism? U.S. Marshals laid the transformation at the feet of radical Islam. In a series of meetings with Miss Conley, Marshals tried to dissuade her from terrorism. Accordingly, they asked her to speak with her local mosque and have the elders there teach her about why terrorism is not commanded by the Qur’an.

Miss Conley doesn’t seem to have been interested in speaking with the Mosque elders. (She admitted the only things she knew about Islam were learned online.) Instead, despite having converted to Islam, she hung out at Faith Bible Church. People there thought she was trying to blow the place up. According to her, she first went there to learn about Christianity and then had fun scaring them.

Admittedly, Faith Bible Church, and all the churches in my community, are a bit on the jumpy side as far as security goes. I remember first attending church in Arvada in 2011 and noticing that an off-duty cop sat in the back every Sunday. My eyes widened when I learned he had a concealed gun on his person. The vigilance is because of a sad shooting incident that occurred at a local church-affiliated function in 2007.

Since Miss Conley barely even went to Mosque services yet transformed from regular Colorado girl to radical Muslim in six months, did she really get deceived by violent religious ideas? Is her flight into terrorism actually a result of religious indoctrination? I doubt it. I think her case has more in common with domestic violence victims.

Women who become victims of domestic violence fall into classic types. A significantly older man preys on a teenaged or young 20s girl. Miss Conley’s 19. Terrorist Fiancé is 32.

The victim is usually attracted to the abuser’s powerful personality and makes her life revolve around him. Miss Conley was moving halfway around the world and giving up all her family.

The abuser engages in mind control to get his victim to follow his every whim. Miss Conley was even willing to kill her own countrymen for her fiancé. Yet, Miss Conley said she didn’t want to kill anyone personally. She preferred to nurse the terrorists back to health. Terrorists enjoy killing people; abused women blindly serve their man.

Miss Conley seems more concerned about pleasing Terrorist Fiancé than following Islam. According to Islam, you need the father’s permission to marry. Miss Conley’s dad was wise enough to give an emphatic “no” when Terrorist Fiancé skyped him to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet, far from being bound by religious conviction, Miss Conley shrugged that off to fly to meet Terrorist Fiancé anyway.

Abusive men are notorious liars. Miss Conley said nothing of Terrorist Fiancé having other wives. But the Qur’an allows four wives (plus raping female slaves). Do you really think a notorious terrorist made it to age thirty-two without taking any other wives?

Some papers are complaining about Miss Conley’s imprisonment saying, how can you punish someone for a crime they haven’t committed yet? While being in jail isn’t pleasant, the U.S. Marshals rescued Miss Conley. Radical Muslims take the Quranic command to beat your wife very literally. Add emotional abuse to that equation, and a woman can’t even leave the house without her husband’s permission.

Miss Conley might have had honeymoon visions of romance, but in reality she was in for a nasty fate. Despite embracing radical Islam, she wouldn’t have been able to erase the self-respect she was raised with in only six months. Many of the abuses the other women in the camp would have been used to, (imprisonment in the house, husbandly beatings, unwanted polygamy and a cheating husband), Miss Conley would have rebelled against. This “rebellion” would have given Terrorist Fiancé even more reason to beat her, starve her, or worse.

Miss Conley is in an American jail where she’s not getting beaten, is served three meals a day, and can read and pursue some educational interests. The reason the U.S. Marshals found her before she got on the plane, (i.e. the reason she is in jail right now), is because her dad called the Marshals. Dads don’t call the police on their little girls to save the nation. Dads call the police on their daughter when they think the alternative would hurt their girl more.

Miss Conley might hate the U.S. Marshals or be furious at her parents right now, but they saved her life. Terrorist Fiancé would have treated her much worse.

So this is my advice to the U.S. Marshals. What Miss Conley needs is not a moderate Imam speaking to her about Islam. What she needs is an experienced counselor telling her about the warning signs and mind control tactics in an abusive relationship.

Anne Garboczi Evans holds a Master’s in Counseling and specializes in working with domestic violence victims and teenage moms. She is also an author with Hartline Literary Agency and is currently working on a world religions book entitled, No Fear: My Tale of Hijabs, Witchcraft Circles, and the Cross.


Arvada teen tied to terror
Jesse Paul
Denver Post | July 3, 2014

An Arvada teenage girl arrested in April on suspicion of attempting to support al Qaeda and its affiliates including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was warned for months by federal agents investigating her that her support could lead to her incarceration.

One FBI agent met with her seven times, trying to dissuade her from supporting jihad and suggesting that she instead commit herself to humanitarian work, court papers say.

Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, was taken into custody at the Denver International Airport by the FBI as she attempted to board a plane on her way to Turkey, according to Dave Joly, an FBI spokesman. The case against Conley was not unsealed until Wednesday because of an "ongoing, active investigation," when news of her arrest and alleged activities became public, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver.

Investigators from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated Conley for roughly eight months before arresting her April 8, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in the Denver U.S. District Court.

During that time, she repeatedly told federal agents who identified themselves and met with her on a near weekly basis from November to April that she was committed to waging jihad in the Middle East.

Conley went ahead with her plans, led by a man she met on the Internet who identified himself as a terrorist associated with ISIL and with whom she built a romantic relationship online as he encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him.

Even after federal agents met with her parents, warning them of their daughter’s radical beliefs, and even after her parents tried to dissuade her, Conley purchased a plane ticket to Turkey, where she planned to meet the man she met online, court filings say.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Denver declined to comment on the case, and attempts to reach Conley’s attorney, a federal public defender, were unsuccessful. If convicted, Conley could face up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

In 2013, Conley encountered the man online and the two shared their views of Islam as "requiring participation in violent jihad against any non believers," according to court filings. The person, identified in documents as "Y.M.," told Conley that he was fighting in Syria with ISIL, which is one of several rebel factions locked in a bitter civil war with the Syrian government.

The two planned for Conley to provide support for ISIL and "fight should it become necessary," court documents say. In September, Conley joined the U.S. Army Explorers, a nonprofit youth exploration group, to be trained in military tactics and guns, court papers said.

Law enforcement began looking into Conley after a security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada the site of a 2007 active shooter attack contacted police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to report that a woman had been wandering the campus taking notes, court records say.

The woman also became "confrontational" with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought Conley was suspicious and that she seemed to be visiting the church in preparation for an attack.

An Arvada police detective and a special deputy U.S. marshall interviewed Conley in November about her time at the church, according to court documents. Conley told investigators that she hated "those people," specifically their support of Israel, and "if they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

She also referred to U.S. military bases as "targets," according to court papers.

A month later, Conley was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point Conley said she was training in military tactics and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters, a federal agent said.

A few weeks later, the complaint said, Conley told the FBI agent she was "ready to wage jihad in a year."

The agent interviewed Conley several more times over the next few weeks leading into 2014, during which time Conley repeatedly said that she wanted to travel to the Middle East and East Africa to wage jihad.

Federal agents warned Conley’s parents around February that their daughter’s beliefs were becoming alarmingly violent, according to the complaint. Her parents were "asked to attempt to engage Conley in candid conversation and to get her to expose her true views on Islam."

"We’ve been advised not to comment," Ana Maria Conley, the teen’s mother, told The Denver Post Wednesday evening. "We ask you to please respect our privacy."

When Conley told her parents on April 1 that she was leaving for Syria to marry a "soldier," her parents expressed their disapproval.

Seven days later, Conley headed to the airport and checked some bags. Inside them were CDs and DVDs labeled Anwar al Awlaki, who was an American dissident turned Islamic militant who was killed by 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

As Conley walked down the jetway to board her flight, federal agents arrested her.

Staff writer Kirk Mitchell contributed to this report.

Teen’s activities raised concern at Israel event
Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post | July 4, 2014

As an Arvada congregation prepared to welcome more than 1,000 area Jews into their chapel for an annual fall homage to the Holy Land last year, a young Muslim woman appeared to be plotting a terrorist attack in plain sight.

"It was very obvious. Her acts were just continually suspicious," said senior pastor George Morrison of the Faith Bible Chapel of Arvada.

Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, now faces a federal charge of material support to al Qaeda and affiliates including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

She was arrested in April after receiving military training and developing a close relationship online with an avowed terrorist who had invited her to join the jihad in the Middle East, according to court documents unsealed this week. Authorities began investigating Conley after learning of her unusual activities at the Arvada church.

Morrison, who had spoken to Conley and others who had interacted with her, said he thought Conley had a romanticized view of a religious jihad but wasn’t truly dangerous. However, because a 2007 murder spree had directly affected the church, members were compelled to call the FBI.

"I still think she falls in the category of a terrorist wannabe. I didn’t think she had the wherewithal to harm anyone … but we didn’t want to take any chances," he said.

Conley faces a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison, according to U.S. District Court records in Denver.

She was raised in Loveland and Arvada and attended Ralston Valley and Arvada West high schools. She later became a certified nurse’s aide.

The young woman had aspirations of serving in the U.S. military, but when she converted to Islam, she believed fellow soldiers wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a hijab and niqab, according to federal court records. In September, she joined the U.S. Army Explorers to learn how to handle guns. She believed her destiny was to join a Muslim suitor she met online and fight a guerilla war in the Middle East or to work as a nurse, she told the FBI.

But along the way, her enthusiasm for jihad frightened members of the Faith Bible Chapel still traumatized by what happened in 2007.

In early December that year, a shooter gunned down two people at Youth With a Mission, a missionary training center on the Faith Bible campus. The same man later killed two teenage sisters during a shootout at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Last year, some of Faith Bible’s members began making comments to security officers and Morrison about the Muslim woman who suddenly began attending services in September.

"It became apparent that she wasn’t interested in church doctrine," said Rhoda Schultz, Morrison’s assistant. Conley wore a burka covering her head and long flowing gowns, but she didn’t carry a Bible, some church leaders recalled.

"She was dressed in all black. She looked very much like you see an Arab woman," said Betty Miller, the church’s Kids of Faith director.

Unlike many people who visit the church for possible permanent affiliation, Conley became annoyed when approached by a church leader asking if she wished to attend a small gathering at a coffee shop with a church group of young, unmarried adults, Schultz said.

On Sundays, Conley would wander from one Sunday school class to another. She was taking notes and making drawings but seemingly not of church discussions, Schultz said. Members saw her walking the halls in a section where children attended separate Sunday school classes, always taking notes.

Morrison said church security officers took surveillance pictures of Conley. She became confrontational when security officers asked to see the notes, refusing to show them, according to court records.

Schultz said she spoke with Arvada police officers, who had attended Sunday services since the attack in 2007, and they explained that they were well aware of the issue.

In fact, "Pastor George" had already contacted local FBI agents about the woman’s suspicious activities. FBI agents began watching and investigating Conley’s activities in September.

Church leaders and security officers began getting more nervous about their new visitor as a well publicized annual fellowship, called Annual Israel Awareness Day, approached in October, Schultz said. Dating back more than 35 years, Faith Bible Chapel had invited area Jewish people to hear informative discussions about Israel. The congregation swells from about 1,000 to 2,700 that night.

Specifically with her in mind, church leaders established a new security protocol. Anyone with backpacks or large bags would be asked to open them for a quick inspection or take them to their cars.

When security officers asked to look inside her backpack, she refused, telling them "that’s none of your business," Morrison said. They asked her to take her backpack to her car, which she did.

The next month, in November, FBI agents introduced themselves to Conley, according to federal court records. Between November and April, she repeatedly vowed her support of a jihad and was openly antagonistic about Faith Bible because of its support for Israel.

After two months of her visits, it was apparent she was not interested in learning about the faith, and so when she refused to show security her drawings, that was the last straw, Morrison said. "We asked her to leave," he said.

Conley told an FBI agent that she hated "those people" at Faith Bible for their support of Israel, adding that "if they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

Conley transferred to Jefferson County Public Schools from Loveland as an eighth grader and went to Drake Middle School beginning in 2008. After beginning her freshman year at Arvada West High in 2009, she bounced to Ralston Valley High in 2010 and then back to Arvada West in 2011. She received a GED in 2012.

She took college courses in the fall of 2012 at Regis University in Denver, where her mother, AnaMaria Conley, is an associate professor of economics.

Staff writer Zahira Torres contributed to this report.


Shannon Conley Coverage–02 Sep 14

Posted: September 2, 2014 in ISIS, Jihad, Terrorism

Romance, jihad led American woman to jail and terrorism charge
Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colo., 19, is charged with conspiring to help ISIS, the militant group wreaking havoc in Syria and now Iraq. Newly public court documents describe the backstory leading to her April arrest.
Noelle Swan, Staff writer
CSM | July 3, 2014

Federal agents appear to have gone out of their way to persuade Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colo., to abandon plans join jihadists in Syria, but ultimately arrested her in April at Denver International Airport as she allegedly pursued her intent, according to court documents released Wednesday.

Ms. Conley, a 19-year-old nurse’s aide and a Muslim convert, planned to travel to Syria to join an online suitor, who told her he was affiliated with the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the militant group that has recently overtaken parts of northern Iraq, the FBI affidavits allege. She has been held in Denver County Jail since her arrest and faces a federal charge of conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a penalty of 15 years in prison, according to The Associated Press and the Los Angles Times.

FBI agents arrested Conley on April 8 at the airport as she was boarding a plane to leave the US. Details of the investigation leading up to her arrest came to light with Wednesday’s release of previously sealed court documents.

During a series of interviews with Conley between November and March, FBI agents encouraged her to join humanitarian efforts to aid Muslim lands rather than supporting violence, but she reportedly insisted that such aid could not solve the problems she wanted to address. She maintained that she wished to carry out jihad, but lacked the means and opportunity to do so, the documents state. When cautioned that she was discussing illegal activity with overt law enforcement officers, she replied “she would rather be in prison than do nothing.”

The agents reached out to Conley’s parents to help dissuade their daughter from her plan. Her father told an agent that Conley had asked for his blessing to marry, which he refused, the documents state.

In an FBI interview on April 4, four days before her arrest, Conley told agents there was no way to stop her from traveling to Syria to meet her suitor, where she planned to be a housewife and serve as a nurse at his camp. Agents apprehended her on April 8, while she was walking down the jetway toward a plane bound for Germany – what would have been the first leg of a trip to Syria.

Conley first came under FBI scrutiny in November, when the pastor and security director of the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada alerted local police that she had been wandering around and apparently taking notes about the layout of the FBC campus, court documents show. She reportedly became confrontational when church staff approached her and started talking about terrorism.

During a November interview, Conley told officers that she had started attending FBC services to meet people of other faiths, but was put off by the church’s support for Israel. In multiple subsequent interviews during the next several months, the 19-year-old told the FBI about her desire to wage jihad abroad.

More than 100 American-born Muslims have left US soil to train with Al Queda-inspired groups such as ISIS, New York Police Department terrorism chief John Miller told the New York Daily News. The majority of these fighters have been men, but Conley is not the first American woman to be apprehended for plans to carry out jihad. Michigan-born Coleen LaRose, known as “Jihad Jane,” is currently serving a five-year sentence for plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist whose illustration of the head of the prophet Mohammed on the body of a dog sparked outrage among the international Muslim community.


Colorado woman’s quest for jihad baffles neighbors
Jenny Deam
Los Angeles Times | July 25, 2014

Reporting from Arvada, Colo.

To those who knew her, Shannon Maureen Conley was a bright teenager lost in middle-class suburbia who went searching for love and purpose.

She thought she found it half a world away with a Tunisian man 13 years her senior who promised marriage and holy war. The plan went only as far as Denver International Airport, where Conley was arrested in April as she tried to board a plane to support Islamic fighters in Syria.

Conley told the FBI she was determined to be "defending Muslims on the Muslim homeland against people who are trying to kill them." If that was illegal, she added, she "would rather be in prison than do nothing."

The 19-year-old Colorado woman is now under federal indictment, charged with conspiracy to aid Islamic State, the extremist military force with ties to Al Qaeda that has been on the march across Iraq and Syria.

Her transformation from a smiling girl, often clad in shorts or jeans and a floppy hat, who chatted with friends, to a solemn, dreamy young woman wearing the long dresses and flowing head scarves of traditional Islam, is one that neighbors and school administrators said came relatively suddenly.

She had been "among the brightest kids" at Arvada West High School, said principal Rob Bishop, adding that she was the daughter of a professor at a Catholic university, was enrolled in honors courses and presented no discipline problems.

Sometime during her junior year, Bishop said, Conley had begun to wear traditional Muslim dress. Several girls complained that she was kneeling on the bathroom floor three times a day for her prayers.

"I talked to her about accommodating her to get her out of the bathroom and move her into an office in our school’s front offices," Bishop said. Conley told him she was converting to Islam and seemed grateful for his support.

Neighbors, too, noticed the change in her appearance, and said she often seemed lonely and reflective. Many neighbors were not closely acquainted with Conley or her parents. Her mother, Ana Marie Conley, is an associate professor of economics at Regis College, while her father, John Conley, works in the computer field and teaches martial arts out of his garage on weekends, according to neighbors.

Robert Taylor, who lives nearby, said he would sometimes see Conley sitting alone in a neighborhood park, drifting silently on the playground swing.

"She just seemed kind of lost," he said.

On Conley’s Facebook page, she began calling herself Halima, an Arabic name meaning "gentle and mild-mannered," and described her work as a "slave to Allah."

In fall 2013, Conley began showing up at Faith Bible Church, a Christian mega-church not far from her home known for its support of Israel. Pastor George Morrison said members became unnerved by the frequent sightings of the young woman in Muslim dress, carrying a large backpack and wandering in and out of classes and services.

The church has a history. In December 2007 a gunman opened fire at the dormitory of a missionary group that shares campus space at the church, killing two and wounding two others.

Morrison said staff repeatedly asked Conley if she had questions about the church or wanted to join.

She declined, saying she was a Muslim doing research. Morrison said he didn’t see her as a threat: "I felt like from the beginning she was a wannabe," he said. Still, on Nov. 3, the church finally asked her not to come back, and four days later, the FBI conducted what was to be the first of many interviews with Conley.

According to an affidavit filed in court, Conley was asked why she had gone to the church. "I hate those people," she replied, adding that once church leaders began to watch her, she decided to goad them by pretending to take notes. "If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

She told FBI agents she had signed up for a weekend with the U.S. Army Explorers, a career program offered under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts of America, to be trained in military tactics and firearms. Her intention, she said, was "to use that training to go overseas to wage jihad."

FBI agents initially interviewed Conley’s parents in February, asking them to engage their daughter in "candid conversation" about Islam.

Though they have declined to be interviewed by reporters, it is apparent from court documents that the Conleys’ alarm about their daughter was growing. On March 10, the FBI said, John Conley called the FBI and told agents he had not realized that his daughter had become so extreme. A few days later, he recounted walking in on a Skype conversation his daughter was having with a man she said she had met online.

The man, whose name is redacted in the complaint, asked Conley if he could marry his daughter and bring her to the Middle East.

Her father refused, but Conley said she was going anyway. On April 1, John Conley said, he found on his desk a one-way ticket to Turkey for his daughter and called the FBI.

In all, federal agents met with Conley eight times between Nov. 7 and April 8, and six times with her parents. Court documents describe agents trying to dissuade her from the notion of jihad, and suggesting the option of working for a humanitarian organization. But Conley’s determination only appeared to grow.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as the group was called until recently, fighter she had met online was her "suitor," she said, and she planned to travel to meet him. They would live near the border between Turkey and Syria. She would be "a housewife and the camp nurse," and if necessary take up arms, she said. "I wouldn’t like it … but I would do it."

She made it as far as Denver International Airport, where on April 8 she checked in for her flight to Frankfurt, with a connection to Turkey, and made it halfway down the jetway before she was confronted by the FBI and taken into custody.

The U.S. attorney and FBI have declined to comment on the case, as has Conley’s public defender.

Since her arrest, the initial complaint charging her with providing material support to a terrorist group has been reduced to a conspiracy charge that carries a maximum of five years in prison rather than 15.

Back in Arvada, neighbors along Taft Circle are more saddened than fearful. When Conley disappeared in April, they thought she had moved.

Once the news broke July 2 and TV trucks began arriving, Taylor slipped a note into the Conleys’ front door offering support. So far, they haven’t responded.

Recently at Faith Bible Church, Morrison offered a special prayer for the young woman sitting in a jail cell.

"I never thought she was dangerous, but you never know," he said later. "She ignored every warning they gave her. She was crossing a line, stepping into an area that could’ve sucked her into something really bad. I think maybe getting arrested just might have saved her life."


Neighbors: Teen Arrested In Terror Investigation Seemed Typical
July 3, 2014

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – The Arvada teenager accused of trying to gather information for a Muslim terrorist group was seemingly typical, as described by her neighbors, before her behavior started to change.

The FBI arrested Shannon Maureen Conley in April but her case was just made public. She is accused of helping the radical Islamic group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

Shannon Conley (credit: CBS)

Conley seemed to be a typical teen. She attended middle school in Loveland, then Arvada West High School before transferring to Ralston Valley then back to Arvada West.

Her neighbor, Bob Taylor, said Conley and her family have been living at the same home in Arvada for about two years. They also saw the changes.

“When she first moved in she seemed normal, wore clothes most kids wear, then she started wearing the long Islamic garb,” said Taylor.

According to court documents, she converted to Islam after meeting a Muslim man online who convinced her to take part in a holy war.

Conley was first picked up on the FBI’s radar at the Faith Bible Church in Arvada where she was wearing Islamic garb. She told investigators, “If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.”

She was arrested while boarding a plane with a ticket to Turkey. Her arrest happened after the FBI repeatedly to talk her out of her plans.

“Tried to suggest other things she could do to help folks and after all those attempts she was committed to Jihad,” said FBI Special Agent In Charge Denver bureau Jim Davis.

Neighbors said they started to notice changes in her behavior.

“She would go down the street here to a park and sit on the swing. Swing in that attirre for maybe half an hour at a time. I don’t know if she was contemplating or meditating,” said Taylor.

The FBI said Islamic terrorists are recruiting American women through offers of love and going after those most vulnerable in attempts to gain access to the United States.


Coloradan In Terror Investigation Agrees To Change Plea To Guilty
August 11, 2014

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – An Arvada woman charged with aiding a foreign terrorist organization has agreed to change her plea to guilty.

Conley, 19, is charged with conspiracy to provide support to ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Jeff Dorschner said in a statement released Monday morning that a plea hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case.

Court documents claim Conley joined the Army Explorers to be trained in U.S. military tactics and firearms, and that she told the FBI she wanted to wage Jihad and to go overseas and fight.

She attended middle school in Loveland, then Arvada West High School before transferring to Ralston Valley then back to Arvada West.

Conley was first picked up on the FBI’s radar at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada where she was wearing Islamic garb. She told investigators, “If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.”

She also had a number of CDs and DVDs labeled “Anwar Al-Awlaki” that were recovered. Al-Awlaki was the Colorado educated terror suspect assassinated by a U.S. drone missile in Yemen.

According to a criminal complaint, Conley’s parents told the FBI they failed to talk their daughter out of her plans. Conley was living with her parents in their Arvada home.

The FBI also tried repeatedly to talk her out of going but arrested her earlier this year at Denver International Airport with a ticket to Turkey.

Details of the agreement were not part of the court filing. Deals cannot be disclosed until a change of plea hearing, according to Dorschner.

Oussama Romdhani
World Affairs Journal | July/August 2014

For the second year in a row, Tunisia’s usually peaceful observance of the holy month of Ramadan has been marred, this year by murderous terrorist attacks on Army troops near the western border with Algeria, one in the Chaambi Mountains and another in the town of Sakiet Sidi Youssef.

Since April 2013, a total of 34 Tunisian soldiers have been killed and scores injured in deadly attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters operating in the mountains, 140 miles west of the capital city of Tunis. But the toll of the July 16th incident was the heaviest ever suffered by the Tunisian Army in any terrorist attack since the country’s independence in 1956. At least 15 soldiers were killed and more than 20 injured in simultaneous attacks against two encampments of young troops breaking the daylong Muslim fast. Ten days later, two more soldiers were killed 60 miles farther north.

In slightly more than a year, terrorist tactics have grown in lethality and have become dramatically more brazen. A “qualitative shift” was already evident by the end of May when armed assailants attacked the family home of Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou, in the city of Kasserine, by the Chaambi Mountains, killing four policemen on sentry duty. AQIM’s Chaambi attack was the first time terrorists used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) against Tunisian targets.

Carrying out the May and July attacks seemed to require a higher level of tactical preparedness, especially prior intelligence gathering about intended targets and greater synchronization between AQIM and Tunisia’s “Ansar Al Sharia of Tunisia.”

In both attacks, there was also a quest for the “spectacular” and for propaganda dividends. After the May attack, AQIM issued its first claim of responsibility for any attack in Tunisia since the 2011 uprisings that toppled the Ben Ali regime. In its statement, the group warned Tunisian authorities that “an open war on Islam and Muslims, aimed at pleasing America, France, and Algeria, will be quite costly.” Furthermore, there was a daily trickle of propaganda photos on social media, in the wake of the Chaambi attack.

In an attempt to manipulate “religious symbols,” the July attacks (much like a similar strike, last year) were timed to coincide with the month of Ramadan and the anniversary of the Battle of Badr, a military expedition by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 AD. In Algeria (but also in Iraq) al-Qaeda affiliates had in the past sought to carry out terrorist operations during Ramadan and to dub some of their suicide attacks “Badr raids.” In conformity with its self-assigned mission of “restoring” a purist vision of Islam to the region, AQIM named its group of fighters the “Uqba Ibn Nafaa Brigade,” after a Muslim general who led the conquest of the Maghreb in 670 AD.

During the last three years, Salafist radicals seized the opportunity of post-revolutionary upheaval in Tunisia to organize. Lawlessness in Libya and porosity of borders in the region allowed them to establish training camps in the country’s backyard. As terrorist and trafficker networks intertwined, they could more easily smuggle all kinds of weapons, including RPGs and MANPADS, into Tunisian territory.

Since the beginning of the year, according to Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, no less than one thousand terrorism suspects have been arrested and a dozen attacks on borders posts thwarted.

If there is any silver lining in all of this, especially after the July 16th attack, it is that Tunisians seem to be coming to terms with the indigenous roots of the terror problem. In an implicit admission of the domestic background to terror activities, the government moved in July to freeze the activities of 157 associations suspected of supporting terrorism. It also closed down 21 mosques under the control of fanatical preachers while also shutting down unlicensed radio and television stations and kindergartens. The geography of ensuing arrests and mop-up operations after the Chaambi attack reinforced the suspicion that homegrown jihadist constituencies were involved. The minister of defense even took it upon himself to acknowledge that 25 of the terrorists who had attacked the home of the interior minister last May had come from Kasserine proper and only six from the Chaambi Mountains.

In the midst of these attacks, Prime Minister Jomaa complained that security forces are stretched too thin as a result of protests and disturbances they have been obliged to monitor. The military is sorely underequipped. “If our forces had the right equipment, we could have avoided the casualties incurred during the last attack,” he said. Many suspect the country’s anti-terrorism effort to lack more than just adequate equipment. Experts see a need for a more integrated security approach and enhanced intelligence, training, and international cooperation programs to make up for a long period of hesitation to confront terrorism.

As all of these domestic and regional risk factors are likely to persist if not worsen, the next few months leading to parliamentary and presidential elections this fall will be fraught with dangers. The (not altogether unlikely) nightmare scenario in the minds of many Tunisians is that tactically sophisticated terrorists will shift from military and security targets to civilian targets in urban areas.

Political leaders have warned against outside “regional plots” that would aim at disrupting the democratic process. Some analysts surmise that competition between al-Qaeda’s local franchises and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the same jihadist turf in North Africa could lead to a surge in terror across the region. But politicians have increasingly acknowledged the role played by Tunisians within this regional nexus of terror. Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of the main secularist political party, Nida Tounes, recently pointed out that 11 out of 32 terrorists who attacked the In Amenas gas installation (south of Algeria) in January 2013, were Tunisian. A troublingly disproportionate number of Tunisians have often taken part in terror incidents around the world, including the killing of Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan on the eve of the September 11th attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings. For decades, Tunisian authorities have acted as if this was someone else’s problem. But when Nizar Naouar, a Tunisian émigré in France, rammed a gas tanker truck into a Djerba synagogue, in April 2002, he dispelled the illusory notion that chickens don’t have to come home to roost. With terrorists trickling back home, initial complacency and short-sightedness about Tunisians taking part in jihad in Syria, Iraq, Mali, and elsewhere have mostly given way to a deep anguish about the distinct possibility that droves of war-hardened fighters will one day return to Tunisia. Government figures show that 8,000 Tunisians have been prevented from joining jihad in Syria just in the last year. Scores of smuggling rings for aspiring jihadists have also been dismantled in recent months.

Terrorism is emerging as a politically polarizing issue and a potential determinant of the coming electoral campaign. The intense debate over who is responsible for the country’s mounting vulnerability to terrorism will surely not abate soon. On it could hinge the November and December elections, and political protagonists know that. If leaders of Ennahda, the main Islamist party, are expressing concern over the “unfair” exploitation of the terrorism issue at their expense, leftists and liberals are not shying away from putting the onus on Islamists. “Ennahda needs to rid itself of the advocates of extremism within its ranks at any cost,” Zied Krichen, a secularist columnist, recently wrote.

A few political voices are trying to galvanize common resolve against terrorism across party affiliations. This is useful. But without meaningful and genuine national reconciliation, calls for a “united front” against terrorism will likely continue to ring hollow to many, leaving uncertainty hanging over Tunisia’s transition. It remains to be seen whether concern for national security can prove to be a stronger pull than electoral jockeying or political polarization.

Oussama Romdhani is a former Tunisian minister of communication. Between 2007 and 2010, he oversaw the preparation of a Global Terrorism Report for the government of Tunisia. He served as a Tunisian diplomat to the United States from 1981 to 1995 and is currently an international media analyst.


Tunisia to close down Salafist-run mosques
Government to shut mosques and radio stations not under its control following reported celebrations over troops’ deaths.
Reuters | 20 Jul 2014

Tunisia has launched a crackdown on mosques and radio stations associated with conservative groups following a deadly attack on its soldiers near the Algeria border.

Tunisia’s armed forces have been carrying out a campaign to flush out fighters from their remote hideout in the Chaambi mountains.

Some of the armed groups are tied to al-Qaeda and 14 soldiers were killed this week when dozens of fighters with rocket-propelled grenades attacked two army checkpoints in the region.

"The prime minister has decided to close immediately all the mosques that are not under the control of the authorities, and those mosques where there were reported celebrations over the deaths of the soldiers," the office of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said in a statement on Sunday.

It said the government would also order the closure of radio stations, websites or television stations that publish messages from armed groups.

More than 60 men linked to fighters had also been arrested since the attacks on the army checkpoints, the statement said.

It did not give any figures for mosques included in the crackdown or name any websites or media, Reuters news agency reported.

Transition to democracy

Tunisia is one of the main sources of fighters travelling from North Africa to join armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

The government is concerned conservative elements have been spreading a violent message at mosques not controlled by the state.

The government has been slowly taking back control of mosques taken over by ultra-conservative Salafist groups since the 2011 uprising.

Tunisia has been praised as a model of transition to democracy in the aftermath of the uprising.

The country has adopted a new constitution, and a transitional government has taken over until elections this year to overcome a crisis between a leading Islamist party and its secular rivals.

But fighters from one hardline group were blamed for killing two secular opposition leaders last year and touching off a political crisis that eventually forced the governing moderate Islamist party to make way for a caretaker administration.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group’s North Africa branch, has claimed attacks in Tunisia in the past, but another armed group, Ansar al-Sharia is also active.

Robert H. Scales and Douglas Ollivant
The Washington Post | August 1, 2014

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Douglas A. Ollivant is a fellow at the New America Foundation’s Future of War project.

Military transformations can be hard to detect. They generally occur over decades, sometimes over generations. Soldiers are usually the first to recognize them, but for the perceptive, the signs of a sea change developing on today’s battlefields are there. Look carefully at media images of ground fighting across the Middle East, and you will notice that the bad guys are fighting differently than they have in the past.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the West confronted terrorists who acted like, well, terrorists. In Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and other militant groups relied on ambushes, roadside bombings, sniper fire and the occasional “fire and run” mortar or rocket attack to inflict casualties on U.S. forces.

When terrorists were stupid enough to come out of the shadows, they fought as a mob of individuals. One rip of a Kalashnikov or a single launch of a rocket-propelled grenade was enough. If they stood to reload, they risked annihilation at the hands of their disciplined, well-trained and heavily armed American opponents.

Today, it’s different. We see Islamist fighters becoming skilled soldiers. The thrust of the Islamic State down the Euphrates River illustrates a style of warfare that melds old and new. U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq used to say: “Thank God they can’t shoot.” Well, now they can. They maneuver in reasonably disciplined formations, often aboard pickup trucks and captured Iraqi Humvees. They employ mortars and rockets in deadly barrages. To be sure, parts of the old terrorist playbook remain: They butcher and execute prisoners to make unambiguously clear the terrible consequences of resistance. They continue to display an eager willingness for death and the media savvy of the “propaganda of the deed.”

We see these newly formed pseudo-armies emerging across the Levant as well. The Darwinian process of wartime immersion has forced them to either get better or die.

Some observers of the transformation admit that Hezbollah now is among the most skilled light infantry on the planet. And now there is Hamas. Gone are the loose and fleeting groups of fighters seen during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In Gaza they have been fighting in well-organized, tightly bound teams under the authority of connected, well-informed commanders. Units stand and fight from building hideouts and tunnel entrances. They wait for the Israelis to pass by before ambushing them from the rear. Like Hezbollah and the Islamic State, they are getting good with second-generation weapons such as the Russian RPG-29 and, according to as-yet-unconfirmed reports from the fighting in Gaza, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

These fighters are now well-armed, well-trained and well-led and are often flush with cash to buy or bribe their way out of difficulties. While the story of the disintegration of the Iraqi army is multi-causal, the fact that it was never trained to face such an opponent as competent as the Islamic State was certainly a factor.

This frightening new age is emerging due to several factors that neither the United States nor Israeli forces anticipated. First is the influence of foreign fighters. Iranian advisers throughout the Middle East are getting better at their craft. Radicalized fighters from the Chechen and Bosnian conflicts serve Islamic State forces as mentors. The terrorists of the last decade generated one-shot suicide bombers of little strategic consequence. Now they have learned to build fighting units and teach weapons and tactics very well.

Second, the bloody Syrian war has served as a first-rate training ground for the Islamic State and Hezbollah. The crucible of that terrible war permitted them to forge leaders, practice tactics, train to maneuver on the urban battlefield and build political and military institutions with mass and resiliency. Perversely, having these two Islamist organizations in conflict with each other has made each one stronger, not weaker.

Third, these new armies talk to each other, even occasionally across ethno-sectarian divisions. Social media and strategic intercessions in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq have created a body of well-informed and battle-hardened leaders and soldiers who share lessons learned.

Fourth, while these new armies are becoming more professional, they retain the terrorist’s specialty of disciplined killing. Terrorist killing used to be mostly random. But now killings are often orchestrated, media-driven executions of surrendering soldiers and opposition leaders. Such strategic killing can give the armies a psychological advantage before the clash of arms begins.

What we see in Gaza, Syria and Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale for any Beltway guru calling for a return of U.S. forces to Iraq. U.S. soldiers and Marines are still the global gold standard, but their comparative advantage has diminished. As terrorist groups turn into armies, pairing their fanatical dedication with newly acquired tactical skills, renewed intervention might generate casualties on a new scale — as the Israelis have been painfully learning

JWMG | 01/08/2014

October 2012, Al-Qaeda’s official media institution, Al-Fajr, which is responsible for the distribution of official publications written by Al-Qaeda affiliates around the world, published an article titled, “How to Confront Raiding Special Forces” by Badr al-Subhi.

In the article, the writer discussed ways to deal with Counter-Terrorism Forces, Emergency Forces, Special Forces – or any other group whose mission is to raid secret houses in cities, or factories and military centers in forests and mountains – in order to prevent mujahideen from being killed, injured or taken into captivity.


Read Full Article clip_image002

Robert Pape, Keven Ruby and Vincent Bauer
The Washington Post | July 21, 2014

With the recent spikes in terrorism in Syria, Lebanon and now Iraq, it is important to ask: Is the threat of terrorism around the world greater today than at the height of the Iraq war?  The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and other news media outlets have used government-sponsored data sets that paint a scary picture of world events, claiming that the number of radical terrorist attacks in 2013 exceeded those in any previous period. If true, the world is more dangerous today than during the George W. Bush administration or before 9/11.

There are a lot of ways to assess the current danger from radical terrorist organizations, but the best way is by tracking the number of suicide attacks. Suicide attacks are the most deadly form of terrorism, killing on average more than 10 times as many people as ordinary attacks and demonstrating the extreme commitment of the person carrying out the attack. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD), maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is a common source of data on suicide attacks used by the news media.

There’s only one problem: The GTD data cannot be trusted. The problem with interpreting recent trends from GTD’s data lies with its inconsistent collection of data, which severely undercounted the violence during the Iraq war. As a result, the recent increase in violence seems more extreme than it really is. The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism’s (CPOST) database of suicide attacks does not suffer from the same inconsistency. This competing source of data shows that the number of suicide attacks has increased over the past few years but remains below the global peak of violence set in 2007 during the Iraq war.


The main trouble with the GTD is that its collection standards have changed several times, making it an inappropriate source for measuring trends. The GTD was initially funded by the DHS in 2006 and began by compiling data from three independent projects, each with its own collection methodology and standards for inclusion: one standard of collection from 1970 until 1998, another through 2008 and another through 2011. It was not until November 2011 that the GTD became responsible for collecting its own data, at which point it changed its methodology and standards. No surprise, the type and number of events in the data set changed every time the methodology changed.

The GTD has qualified that its data set should not be used to look at trends over time, but this has not stopped numerous national and international news services, think-tanks and non-governmental organizations from doing precisely that. Indeed, the online database itself presents images of the data over time, and even releases reports, without any qualification about the differences in time periods. Accordingly, it is more than understandable that most viewers would treat the differences in methodologies across the time periods as irrelevant.

These shifts in methodology are largely responsible for the appearance of an abrupt upward trajectory of global suicide attacks in recent years.  The most recent iteration of the GTD pulls its sources from a wider pool of information than ever. This shift in collection guarantees that more suicide attacks are found after 2011, not necessarily because there are more attacks but because the GTD is better equipped to find them. Since this methodology was not applied retroactively, it is no surprise that violence after 2011 appears to overshadow the 2007 peak.

To be clear, improving methodological standards is all to the good – as long as historical data is recollected according to the new and improved standards. Changing standards without correcting past data creates opportunities for gross under- and overcounting of events. Comprehensive use of either the old or new methodology would create comparable data.

There are better approaches. The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism maintains a frequently updated data set of worldwide suicide bombings since 1982 that is available on its Web site. The CPOST database was the first publicly available complete set of suicide attacks around the world published first as an appendix to an academic article in 2003.

CPOST has maintained a consistent methodology in collecting attacks since its foundation, and ensures that its database contains every verified instance of suicide attack. CPOST collects every instance of a suicide attack, defined as an attacker killing himself or herself during the course of a mission to kill others, and confirms that an attack actually occurred by requiring at least two independent sources. These are suicide attacks in the classic sense that people expect and the complete sources for each attack are available on the CPOST Web site.

How does using CPOST data instead of GTD data affect our understanding of world events? By continually looking for past suicide events that did not have enough evidence, CPOST captures all time periods with the same inclusion criteria. In some periods, CPOST captures nearly twice as many suicide attacks as the GTD.

This consistent collection of data creates a very different picture of world events today. Although there has been a recent increase in the number of suicide attacks worldwide, the level of violence in 2007 still exceeds this number. Moreover, the violence in 2007 was driven almost entirely by the Iraq war, although the current sources of violence are more dispersed, with each ongoing conflict seeing fewer suicide attacks.

Government-funded data sets are not always unreliable. For decades, the Federal Reserve has competently compiled reliable statistics on economic growth, while many municipalities collect excellent data on local crime. However, these successful government-sponsored data-collection efforts have been ongoing for many decades and so many of the original methodological issues have long since been resolved.  The systematic study of terrorism events is much more recent.

So although it is important for the government to collect data, it is also important for universities and other institutions to do so as well.  And it is important for the news media to understand data from all of these sources. Government sources are ostensibly the most authoritative source for data related to national security, but this does not absolve the news media of keeping a critical eye on these authorities. Independent institutions can help them do this. If the numbers produced by competing databases paint different pictures of the world, the media should ask why.

Robert A. Pape is a professor at the University of Chicago, where he heads the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.  Keven Ruby and Vincent Bauer are research director and research analyst at CPOST, respectively.

Counter-Terrorism Committee | 24-Mar-2014

Report on challenges in their prosecution

Anders Behring Breivik did it alone. He meticulously planned his terrorist acts, from buying large quantities of fertilizer to prepare explosives and training to shoot his weapons to scouting his target locations and distributing his 1,500-page political manifesto online.

On 22 July 2011, Breivik killed 77 people in two concerted terrorist acts. He killed 8 in explosions in Oslo and 69 more with firearms on an island an hour away from the Norwegian capital. Why? A right-wing extremist, Breivik is an Islamophobe who is against Norway’s multicultural and open society. He wanted to change it through terror. In 2012, he was sentenced to the maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.

Mohamed Merah did it partly by himself. He lived in France but had travelled to several countries, among them Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and had been in contact with a wider community abroad. The 24-year-old’s activities had drawn the attention of the intelligence services. He had been seen in Kandahar with a known recruiter of French apologists for Al-Qaeda, and had reportedly been asked to attack American interests in France. Merah decided to operate independently, choosing his targets and timeline on his own.

Between 11 and 19 March 2012 he killed 3 soldiers and 4 Jewish people. Known as the scooter terrorist, he shot his victims on the streets of Toulouse and Montauban in France. During a long standoff with police, Merah said about the French Army’s presence in Afghanistan: "You kill my brother, so I will kill you." He was shot dead by police.

As is the case of other terrorists acting alone, Merah had never been completely alone in his cause. Terrorists range in spectrum from people acting in almost total isolation, as Breivik did, to those closely influenced by a group or a political motivation.

Although the phenomenon still represents a small percentage of terrorist incidents, it has grown in the past few years. While judicial authorities should not overstate the threat posed by terrorists acting alone or in small cells, they should remain vigilant.


Terrorists acting alone or in small cells present a number of challenges for law enforcement and judicial authorities. First, they are more difficult to identify and stop than those operating in larger groups or networks, against whom there have been major successes around the world. Borders do not limit recruitment either, with violent extremist propaganda reaching young, vulnerable people across vast distances on the Internet. Postings on social media serve as catalysts for individual would-be terrorists, some of whom may travel to and from conflict zones, a path that could trigger an international investigation.

While there is no formula to recognize potential lone actors, studies have found that, in general, they might have problems socializing and with their cultural identity, may have had a difficult transition to adult life, be prone to introversion, and be avid consumers of online propaganda. They tend to express increasingly extremist views and show interest in or attempt to travel to certain conflict zones or locations where they hope to get training with like-minded people. They may also try to join or engage with a terrorist organization.

Early warnings

One way to deal effectively with this situation is to focus on early signs of trouble. Parents, teachers, health practitioners, religious figures and others in a community could be involved in identifying behaviour that may lead to radicalization and violence. In some instances, for example, the authorities alert parents to the potential risks associated with their children’s online activities. Developing online and offline counter-terrorism narratives and rolling out awareness-raising campaigns are additional recommended measures.

The Internet is seen not only as a key enabler of radicalization and recruitment, but as a source of practical knowledge or autodidactic extremism. The logical approach is to monitor suspicious websites and chat rooms to detect extremist ideologies and groups. There are too many, though, and the authorities have limited resources. It is also difficult to distinguish between a message that was intended as a first step towards violence or incitement and radical, non-violent expressions of extremist beliefs that are protected by freedom of speech.

Intent vs. crime

Examining a suspect’s activities online could enable the authorities to thwart that person’s criminal plans. So could other special investigative techniques, such as search warrants, wiretapping and undercover operations, meant to disrupt as early as possible the suspect’s preparatory phase of research, acquisition of weapons and reconnaissance.

The suspect’s clear dissemination of violent intent may not be enough to secure prosecution, however. Intent alone is not a crime, yet could sometimes amount to public provocation to commit a terrorist offence or to glorification of terrorism, an offence several Member States have introduced. Other offences include providing material support to a foreign designated terrorist organization, soliciting membership in one, and attempting to set off explosives.

Considering the vast amount of information that might be attached to a particular charge, prosecutors must consider what offences to lay, what material to serve as evidence, and how to present the evidence to court in an accessible manner.

New tools and offences

Legal approaches used around the world focus on giving law enforcement new tools to better detect potential terrorists before they act and on introducing new offences that target the perpetration stage. Some countries have opted to take elements from both.

Law enforcement authorities could rely on traditional and new tools during the investigation phase, while a range of offences at their disposal would allow prosecutors to bring charges against a suspect at an early stage. The threshold to start an investigation could be based on indication, rather than the higher one of suspicion.

To illustrate this point, let us say an individual purchased chemicals, which in itself does not constitute a crime. Chemicals are not explosive materials, after all, but could be used to make a bomb. In the past, their purchase would not have met the requirements necessary to authorize a special investigative technique, since there was neither an element of conspiracy nor a finished product.

Taking into account this emerging threat, some countries have moved in the direction of introducing new legislation or amendments to existing ones. This ensures that buying chemicals that could be used to make a bomb is sufficient to establish an indication that a terrorist crime might take place and authorize an investigation aimed at verifying if that is the case or not.

Although a number of States are already using these and other new tools and offences, it would not be advisable to replicate them everywhere. The level of integrity and independence of the judiciary is an important factor in guaranteeing robust checks against misuse.

Strengthening cooperation

Mutual legal assistance treaties, law enforcement cooperation and the provision of reliable, usable intelligence to partners are essential in preventing and prosecuting terrorism. For this to happen, States must strengthen cooperation among all agencies involved. Prosecutors must also be equipped with full knowledge of a case in order to be able to anticipate challenges to evidence, weaknesses in proving elements of an offence, and ensure a fair trial.

Some States have established inter-agency structures that share resources and expertise, and that produce harmonized assessments and reports. To support specific cases, regional organizations have brought together law enforcement, intelligence, political and prosecutorial agencies. At times, it is easier to adopt a regional approach should an agreed framework and definition of terrorism already be in place in these countries.

Ultimately, intelligence and information should flow as easily as the ideologies that give rise to terrorism. Countering the threat, in whatever form, depends on the ability of the judicial authorities to cooperate, to detect crime at the earliest possible stage, and to work closely together with the shared goal of bringing terrorists to justice.

Human rights

Risks of violating human rights exist when prosecutors intervene at a very preliminary stage of suspected activity. International human rights standards protect the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy.

In order to safeguard human rights and the rule of law, there must be independent judicial oversight, prior authorization of surveillance or online monitoring of suspects, and appropriate standards for admissibility of evidence. More practically, websites that are shut down can easily be recreated in a different server and country. Rather than closing websites and chat rooms, it is preferable to embrace the unique opportunities they offer to collect intelligence and promote narratives to counter violent extremism.

Judicial authorities must apply human rights law, while guarding against inappropriate Government conduct intended to control certain actions, in particular when it comes to the prosecution of preparatory acts of terrorism.

The Security Council and terrorism

Bringing terrorists to justice is a key provision of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001). It requires all Member States to cooperate with other Governments in the investigation, detection, arrest, extradition and prosecution of those involved in such acts. States should also criminalize active and passive assistance for terrorism in domestic law.

By its resolution 1624 (2005), the Security Council built on the foundation laid in 2001. At its core, the resolution is about prevention and places increased emphasis on social contexts that may be conducive to the spread of terrorism.

The resolution calls on States to prevent and prohibit incitement to commit terrorist acts, strengthen international cooperation and border control, and enhance dialogue and understanding among civilizations.

The Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee is charged with monitoring the implementation of both resolutions by Member States. It is composed of the 15 members of the Council and is assisted in its work by an Executive Directorate, CTED.

On behalf of the Committee, CTED has facilitated since 2011 a series of seminars for prominent national counter-terrorism prosecutors on bringing terrorists to justice. Each event has focused on a major issue, with the latest seminar in Tunis addressing the challenges in the prosecution of terrorists acting alone or in small cells.