Gone Missing

How ISIS’s Colorado Girls Were Caught

Complaints of illness, snatching $2,000 from dad, a quick trip to Denver airport—and the three were apparently Syria-bound. What happened next was not your typical runaway tale.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

The Farah girls, aged 17 and 15, told their father they were too sick to go to school on Friday morning.

So the father, 68-year-old Ali Farah, let them stay home as he set off for work from the family’s apartment in Arapahoe County in Colorado.

At 10:30 a.m., the girls called their father at his job and told him they were going to the library. He did not suspect anything was amiss until he returned home that evening and found them gone. He tried calling them but got no answer.

The father of a 16-year-old girl who is friends with the sisters then appeared at Ali Farah’s door in the Highland Apartments. This other father, 48-year-old Assad Ibrahim, informed Farah that his own daughter also had gone missing.

Ibrahim said his daughter had left to catch the school bus at 6:30 a.m. But he had later received a call from the Cherry Creek School District saying she was not in class. He had reached her on her cellphone, and she had told him she was just late to class. He had subsequently tried to reach her again, but she had not picked up. He had grown even more alarmed when he discovered that her passport was missing.

Ibrahim now urged Farah to check for his own daughters’ passports. Farah did so and discovered the passports were gone, along with $2,000 in cash.

Both fathers contacted the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched a deputy to each home to take a runaway report. The deputies asked the standard questions, and the fathers said the girls were neither homicidal nor suicidal, were not on medication, and did not take drugs.

Ibrahim made clear to Deputy Dennis Meyer that his daughter was a respectful and dutiful girl of Sudanese extraction. She was anything but the typical teenage runaway.

“[The daughter] has always been a good kid and he has had no real problems with her,” Meyer later wrote in his report.

Farah told Deputy Michael Reed that he could not say what clothes his daughters might have had on. He could surmise one item in keeping with young women of Somali heritage.

“Both wear head scarves as part of their religion,” Reed later wrote in his report.

The names of the three girls were entered into the appropriate databases, and their passports were flagged. Word then came from Germany that the three had been detained by police after spending an entire day at Frankfurt Airport.

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According to one U.S. official, the girls had planned to continue on to Turkey and then to Syria, where they apparently intended to join ISIS. That is the same Colorado-to-ISIS itinerary that another Colorado teen had been about to embark upon when she was arrested at Denver International Airport three months ago. Nineteen-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley of Arvada has since pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, and she faces up to five years in federal prison when she is sentenced in January.

On Sunday, the German police put these latest ISIS-bound Colorado girls on a plane back to Denver, where they were briefly detained by the FBI. They were released to their families without being charged. Their names were withheld because of their age.

The FBI had apparently decided that this was less a case of jihad than hooky. Agents nonetheless began to examine the girls’ cellphones and computers, seeking to determine whether the girls had been recruited online, as Conley had been. Conley’s father had been stunned to walk into his daughter’s room and find her Skyping with an ISIS warrior who used the opportunity to announce he intended to marry her.

A spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District suggests that one of the girls had fallen victim to an “online predator” who urged her and her friends to undertake the trip to Syria. The spokeswoman suggests that the girls had not been radicalized, only led astray.

At the mention of ISIS, most of us think of those videos in which innocents are beheaded, captured soldiers are massacred, or, most recently, a boy is crucified for taking pictures of the group’s headquarters and a girl is stoned to death for supposed adultery, her father inflicting the fatal blow.

But for some teens ISIS seems to symbolize power and purpose, a great drama promising deliverance from the humdrum. They appear to see not atrocities but adventure, not gore but glory.

And these three particular teens also might have been encouraged to see a trip to the caliphate as a way to rebel. Ali Farah and Assad Ibrahim have both embraced democracy and are registered Democrats. Records show that Farah is a regular voter, casting his ballot in the last two general elections.

Early Monday evening, the Arapahoe Sheriff’s Office dispatched Deputy Evan Driscoll to make a “welfare check” on Farah’s daughters such as is usual for returned runaways.

“I was asked to see if they were home and if they were OK,” Driscoll later wrote in his report.

When the deputy arrived at the apartment, he asked to speak with the girls and was led to their bedroom. Their alleged attempt to run off and join ISIS had apparently been exhausting. The two teens were in bed when it was not yet 6 p.m.

“Both girls were asleep,” the deputy would report. “Their mother woke them up and I started speaking to them.”

The girls told how they had taken the passports and the $2,000 and gone to the Denver airport with their friend and flown to Frankfurt, only to be detained the next day by “some sort of police force in the German airport.” They described being returned to Denver, detained by the FBI, then released.

And now they were back home in their room, almost as if nothing had happened. The deputy asked them why they had been in Germany. They answered as if they were terrorists, or maybe just teenagers.

“They said, ‘Family,’ and would not elaborate on any other details about their trip,” the deputy wrote.