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How Did 'Good Girls' From Colorado Get Recruited By ISIS?


Three teenage girls from the Denver area apparently tried to join the so-called Islamic State. The girls, ages 15, 16 and 17, were reported missing by their parents on Friday. They were later stopped in Germany at the Frankfurt airport en route to Turkey. For more details, Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee joins us now. And Megan, walk us through the timeline of events here.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Well, Robert, this started last Friday when the girls - they're two sisters and a friend - left the Denver area on a flight to Europe. And that night, their parents filed a missing persons report with local authorities and, at the time, it was treated as a fairly normal runaway case. When the girls arrived in Frankfurt that weekend, they were - or this past weekend - they were detained by German officials, who had been alerted to them by the U.S. according to the German Interior Ministry. And not too long after that, they were on a flight home to Colorado. Once the girls got back here, they did have some contact with the FBI, although the FBI is not saying what kind and they were returned to their parents.

SIEGEL: And what have you learned about these three young women?

VERLEE: Well, the sisters in this case are of Somali descent. Their friend is Sudanese. And as we've said before, they're aged 15, 16 and 17. They're all high school students. These young women did not tell their parents about their plans, but they did let their classmates know via Twitter about what they were doing, and some of those classmates actually went to school officials because they were quite worried. I spoke with Tustin Amole, who's a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District where those girls attend high school, and she had this to say.

TUSTIN AMOLE: These are good girls. We've never had a history of issues with them. We've never seen indication of any propensity for violence.

VERLEE: As far as the school district is concerned, they seem to be treating these girls as victims. The spokesperson went on to describe the possibility that they might've been lured into this by what Amole describes as online predators.

SIEGEL: Now, there have been some other high-profile cases in Colorado of young people trying to aid radical Islamic groups. What about some of those other incidents?

VERLEE: Earlier this year, 19-year-old Shannon Conley was arrested at Denver International Airport as she was trying to make her way to Syria. Conley told FBI she'd recently converted to Islam and become radicalized online, and that's also where she met a purported ISIS fighter whom she had agreed to marry and was trying to travel to meet with. Conley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and she's due to be sentenced later this year.

And then back in 2009, Jamie Ramirez left Colorado to marry a member of an Islamic extremist group in Ireland. Authorities believe he planned to use her American citizenship to help him launch attacks. She's currently serving an 8-year sentence.

SIEGEL: And Megan, this is an unusual case, this most recent one, in that we have three girls, they're minors and the overt act that they took was to effectively to fly to Germany - I mean, to try to fly to Turkey. What kind of charges might they face for doing that, now that they're back with their parents?

VERLEE: Well, that's a big question and my understanding is that when it comes to federal courts, there are very strict rules about keeping juvenile cases sealed. So we might not learn what charges authorities are investigating or even if they eventually bring them.

And it's important to remember that one big thing we still don't know in all of this, as you just described there, is how far the girls actually got in their planning and how much contact they may have really had with anyone from the Islamic State. I think whatever investigators turn up on that will have a lot of bearing on how authorities end up handling this case.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Megan.

VERLEE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Megan Verlee, reporter with Colorado Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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