A 20-year-old former Mississippi State sophomore pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal terrorism charge after she was arrested along with her fiancé in August trying to board a plane to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Jaelyn Young’s bio certainly doesn’t appear to be that of a typical ISIS recruit, if there is such a thing. A chemistry major at the time of her arrest, Young is the daughter of a police officer and former member of the Navy Reserve; she was an honor student and cheerleader in high school. Young’s fiancé, 22-year-old Muhammad Dakhlalla, pleaded guilty to a similar charge earlier this month.
Young now faces 20 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The couple was identified by authorities after they contacted undercover federal agents online about assistance with traveling to Syria. When they boarded a flight in Columbus, Mississippi, on Aug. 8 with tickets to travel to Istanbul and a plan to cross the border, authorities intercepted them.
Prosecutors portrayed Young as the instigator of the couple’s plot to go to Syria and join ISIS, and her desire to convert to Islam took root before she began dating Dakhlalla. Here’s more from the Associated Press:
Dakhlalla grew up as the youngest of three sons of a prominent figure in Starkville’s Muslim community. He is a 2011 psychology graduate of Mississippi State who and was preparing to start graduate school at the university. Prosecutors have portrayed Young as the leader of the plot. They said that by the time Young began dating Dakhlalla in November 2014, she was already interested in converting to Islam. She announced her conversion in March and began wearing a burqa, a garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their face and body.
“After her conversion, Young distanced herself from family and friends and felt spending time with non-Muslims would be a bad influence,” prosecutors wrote in a statement of facts regarding Dakhlalla’s plea. The statement said Young increasingly complained about the treatment of Muslims in the United States and United Kingdom. Prosecutors said that, after watching pro-Islamic State group videos, she began to view the fighters as liberators. They said Young approvingly cited a video of a man accused of being gay being thrown off a roof to his death by militants and also expressed approval of the shooting of five members of the military in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Both Young and Dakhlalla wrote farewell letters to their families before they left. “Do not alert the authorities,” Young wrote. “I will contact you soon. I am safe. Don’t look for me because you won’t be able to retrieve me if you tried. I am leaving to become a medic.”