Miss. woman who tried to join IS pleads guilty

By: 
Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

A former Mississippi State University student pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to a terrorism charge for conspiring to support the Islamic State terror group.

Jaelyn Young, 20, of Vicksburg pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and faces up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 in fines and lifetime probation.

Her plea was given before U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock of the Northern District of Mississippi.

Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 23, of Starkville—Young's fiance—pleded guilty March 11 to the same charge.

The couple was arrested last August in Columbus after trying to fly to Turkey and slip undetected over the Turkish-Syrian border into IS-controlled territory in Syria.

Both await sentencing, no dates have been set, according to court officials. Lawyers for Young and prosecutors declined to comment following the brief hearing.

The August 2015 complaint document against the pair shows Young made contact with an undercover FBI agent over social media last May, to guide their journey from Istanbul into Syria. Young had previously shared speeches and IS-affiliated media online and Dakhlalla was identified by authorities last June.

Throughout the case, prosecutors portrayed Young as the leader of plan. She informed the undercover agent the pair would marry to enable independent travel to Syria.

The couple left farewell letters for their families before heading to the airport last August, confirming they would never return to the U.S and admitting their guilt.

Following an attack in which four U.S. Marines were killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Young took to Twitter to support the perpetrator of the attack.

"All praise be to God, the numbers of supporters are growing," she said, according to the August 2015 complaint.

Young offered her mathematical and chemistry skills for the terror group and said she could be a field medic. Dakhlalla told the undercover agent he was tech-savvy and willing to provide media support along with a wish to "be taught what it really means to have that heart in battle," documents show.

Young purchased tickets to Istanbul from GTR with a family member's credit card and Dakhlalla paid for passport expedition services shortly before being arrested.

IS still controls large portions of northern Syria and Iraq despite U.S.-led airstrikes and ground assaults by the Iraqi military, Shia militias and Kurdish militia groups. Since 2014, the international coalition against the group has launched over 3,200 airstrikes against IS targets in the region, according to U.S. Department of Defense data.

Allied forces drove IS out of its central Iraq stronghold of Ramadi in an intense campaign from July 2015 to February of this year. As part of the larger western Iraq Anbar offensive, coalition forces are preparing to make strategic gains leading up to future assaults on the IS strongholds of Fallujah and Mosul.

On March 10, U.S. forces detained and interrogated the head of IS's chemical weapons depot, Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, a former Saddam-era commander, to gain intel on the groups secretive stockpile of 90s-era chemical agents. He was later handed over to Iraqi authorities, according to Pentagon officials.

On March 11, a Syrian, Qatari-based news website discovered and published trove of personnel documents from the terror group that identified thousands of alleged recruits across Europe, according to Germany's Interior Ministry.

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