JACKSON, Miss. – Two Mississippi residents were arrested over the weekend on charges that they were trying to travel abroad to join the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).
A criminal charge filed Saturday says Jaelyn Delshaun Young, 19, and Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 22, were arrested that morning at Golden Triangle Regional Airport near Columbus, Mississippi.
Both are charged with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group. A hearing on their detention began Monday in Oxford according to WTVA-TV, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar said it will continue Tuesday. Lamar refused to comment on the case, saying federal officials would release a statement Tuesday.
The charges indicate that both confessed their plans to FBI agents after their arrest Saturday. It was unclear late Monday which lawyers were representing the two.
Both Young and Dakhlalla are U.S. citizens. Mississippi State University spokesman Sid Salter said records show Dakhlalla graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He said Young was enrolled until May as a sophomore chemistry major but had not enrolled for classes since. Young, originally from Vicksburg, was a 2013 honors graduate from Warren Central High School, The Vicksburg Post reported.
The charge indicates that undercover FBI agents interacted online with Young beginning in May about her desire to travel to Syria to join the group. The charge states that her Twitter page said the only thing keeping her from traveling to Syria was her need to earn money. "I just want to be there," she is quoted as saying. In later conversations peppered with Arabic phrases, she said she planned a "nikkah," or Islamic marriage to Dakhlalla so they could travel without a chaperone under Islamic law.
In June, the first FBI agent passed Young off to a second FBI agent posing as an ISIS facilitator. The charge says Young asked the second agent for help crossing from Turkey to Syria, saying "We don't know Turkey at all very well (I haven't even travelled outside U.S. before.)"
Young specified her skills with math and chemistry and said she and Dakhlalla would like to be medics treating the injured. Later, the charge says, she told the second FBI agent that Dakhlalla could help with ISIS' Internet media, saying he "really wants to correct the falsehoods heard here" and the "U.S. media is all lies when regarding" the group, which she called by its preferred internal name, Dawlah.
Dakhlalla told the first FBI agent in an online conversation in June that he was "good with computers, education and media" and that his father had approved him and Young to get married. In July, the charges say, he expressed a desire to become a fighter for the group. "I am willing to fight," he is quoted as saying.
Young later told the FBI that she and Dakhlalla had gotten married June 6 and they planned to claim they were traveling on their honeymoon as a cover story. She also expressed a desire to "raise little Dawlah cubs."
The FBI said Dakhlalla and Young both expressed impatience with how long it was taking for them to be issued passports, and the charges say Dakhlalla paid $340 to expedite passport processing on July 1.
Though the charges say earlier messages indicate the couple planned to fly to Greece and then take a bus to Turkey, the couple later bought tickets on Delta Air Lines leaving Golden Triangle bound for Atlanta, Amsterdam and ultimately Istanbul. Young expressed confidence that security at the small airport would not detect them.
Salter said Mississippi State has cooperated with the investigation once it was contacted Saturday and provided information on the students.
Golden Triangle Regional Airport Executive Director Mike Hainsey confirmed that the FBI arrested a man and woman prior to their boarding a flight Saturday morning but would provide no further information.