JACKSON — A federal court hearing was scheduled to continue Tuesday for two Mississippi residents arrested on charges that they were trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group.
Criminal charges filed Saturday say Jaelyn Delshaun Young, 19, and Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 22, were arrested that morning at a 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 U.S. District Court 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.
An affidavit by an FBI agent says both confessed their plans to after their arrest Saturday. It was unclear late Monday which lawyers represent the two.
The court papers say 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. Salter said Young was enrolled until May as a sophomore chemistry major but had not enrolled for classes since. Young, originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a 2013 honors graduate from Warren Central High School, The Vicksburg Post reported.
Dakhlalla’s relatives are “absolutely stunned” by the arrest and have been cooperating with the FBI, said Dennis Harmon, an attorney representing the family.
Dakhlalla is the youngest of three sons and was preparing to start grad school at Mississippi State University, Harmon said. The attorney also said the man’s father, Oda H. Dakhlalla, is imam of the Islamic Center of Mississippi in Starkville.
The FBI searched the family’s home, including Dakhlalla’s room over the weekend, Harmon said.
The charges indicate 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 Islamic State 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 Dakhlalla could help with the Islamic State’s 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 the university was contacted Saturday, providing information on the former students.