JACKSON, Miss., Aug. 14 (UPI) — Relatives and friends of a Mississippi couple, who were arrested and charged this week with attempting to fight for the Islamic State in Syria, are expressing surprise and anger at the pair’s sudden departure from their normal lives.
Muhammad Dakhlalla, 22, and Jaelyn Young, 19, were arrested by the FBI at a small airport in Columbus, Miss., Saturday, where agents believe they were attempting to board a flight that would ultimately ferry them to the Middle East, particularly Syria.
A 10-page criminal complaint outlines many of the conversations undercover agents said they had with the suspects, including one in which Young supposedly said she hoped to render medical aid to wounded militants and eventually give birth to rebel “cubs.”
In another exchange, Dakhlalla allegedly said, “I am willing to fight. I want to be taught what it really means to have that heart in battle!”
Since details of the purported plot began emerging, the pair’s friends and loved ones have expressed feelings one might expect from an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Dakhlalla is the son of a prominent Muslim community pillar and Young was a high school honor student, the daughter of a police officer, and she aspired to be a physician.
The idea that either one willingly took on such a life-changing (and life-threatening) crusade to become a jihadist obsessed with killing Americans has been painfully hard to accept for those who felt they knew the couple best.
“Something must have happened to her,” Jaelyn’s friend, Elizabeth Treloar, told The New York Times. “She’s too levelheaded, too smart to do this.”
“Shocked,” resident Terris Harper said. “Took me by surprise, thinking someone from my hometown even think about considering something like that.”
“The family is devastated and it is our understanding had no knowledge of or involvement in Jaelyn’s plans,” the Vicksburg, Miss., police department said. Young’s father is a 17-year veteran of the force.
The flight the couple was hoping to board would have taken them to Turkey, the FBI said. From there, agents believe, the engaged couple would have attempted any one of a number of ways to get into Syria — where ISIS is actively involved in its relentless jihadist crusade.
Dakhlalla’s family said the only future plan they knew of was his intention to begin graduate school at Mississippi State University in Starkville in the fall.
Perhaps more surprisingly is the FBI’s suspicion that the sinister plot was actually masterminded by Dakhlalla’s young fiancee. Part of her evolution, a court document says, was seen in a social media post last month in which she applauded the killing of five U.S. servicemen at a recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“What makes me feel (better) after watching the news is that [a militant] carried out an attack against US marines in TN!” the affidavit quotes her as typing.
American counter-terror officials are becoming more concerned at the effectiveness of the terror group’s growing social media campaign to attract new recruits. The IS PR machine continues to find success in persuading young Americans to believe that the United States is merely an oppressive regime that perpetuates lies about the Islamic State’s activities — an issue that Young even supposedly addressed in her conversations with agents.
“[American media] are reporting that IS has a sex slave trade business for girls as young as 1-9 years old. These people believe it too,” she allegedly wrote. “I can not wait to be in [IS] … I am getting very angry at them for believing such stupidity.”
To some, those don’t sound like the words of the young woman they knew.
“Ever since I’ve known her she’s been a good student, and I don’t think she would do anything like that,” Young’s former high school coach, Cedric Jackson, said. “I think it’s a big misunderstanding about the whole deal.”
Once in custody, an affidavit says, the couple admitted to their plans to become jihadists. If convicted on very serious terror and conspiracy charges, the couple each faces a long prison sentence that could keep them behind bars until they are well into their 40s.
“I certainly didn’t think somebody got arrested for wanting to join ISIS,” a neighbor told the Times about seeing police vehicles on his block last week. “That just wasn’t on my radar.”
Other online conversations expressed frustration with the U.S. government’s lengthy processing of their passport applications and then elation once they received them in the mail.
In another discussion with an undercover agent, the FBI says Young disclosed that Dakhlalla had growing concerns about the possibility of getting caught.
“I am so excited but my husband is still nervous about getting [there] only to realize that we will be arrested by the Turkish police or something,” she allegedly wrote in early August. “I tell him not to worry.
“I don’t think they would put so much effort to arrest us in Turkey when they could just give intel to [the] U.S. to arrest us before leaving.”