On May 13, an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation official monitoring communications on social media discovered someone making supportive comments about the Islamic State organization.
Further communications revealed that Jaelyn Young, 20, and her fiancé, Mohammad Oda Dakhalla, 22, both of Starkville, Miss., were saving money to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group.
The FBI brought in a second undercover operative, a woman, to pose on social media as a member of the Islamic State group to further probe Ms. Young’s level of commitment. Both Young and Mr. Dakhlalla are United States citizens.
Young revealed on social media that Dakhlalla’s family and members of their community do not support the Syria-based group. But she and Dakhlalla support the organization and believe that it has established a genuine caliphate that Muslims must support.
She told the FBI operative that she had a talent for math and chemistry and that Dakhlalla had computer science/media skills. She suggested that they could work for the Islamic State in Syria by rendering medical assistance to the injured.
Another FBI undercover operative then made contact with Dakhlalla on social media to confirm his support for the militant group.
In reaching out to the two young Americans, the FBI essentially followed the same approach that real Islamic State recruiters use with social media, befriending potential supporters, building a relationship of trust, and then convincing them to join the group. Except instead of resulting in new recruits arriving in Turkey and crossing the border into Syria, the FBI plan was designed to build a criminal case against the would-be recruits and send them to prison.
An FBI affidavit filed in the Young/Dakhlalla case does not discuss how the two came to form their positive views about the extremist group. But it does suggest that they failed to make contact with an actual recruiter, or at least that any Islamic State recruiter they did make contact with did not believe they were genuine in their desire to join group.
At one point, Young revealed to the FBI that her fiancé “really wants to correct the falsehoods heard here.”
She added: “US has a thick cloud of falsehood and very little truth about [the Islamic State] makes it through and if it does usually the links are deleted (like on youtube and stuff).”
She said Dakhlalla wanted to assure Muslims that the US media was “all lies” in its reporting about the group. She added: “After he sees change in that, he wanted to join the Mujahideen.”
Young and Dakhlalla were married in an Islamic ceremony on June 6.
Three days later, Young told the undercover FBI operative how anxious she was to get to Syria. “I cannot wait to get to [the Islamic State] so I can be amongst my brothers and sisters under the protection of Allah,” she said, “and to raise little [Islamic State] cubs, Allah willing.”
In an important indication of her mind-set, Young commented on the July 17 shooting death of five unarmed US service members in Chattanooga, Tenn., by Muhammad Youssef Abdalazeez.
“What makes me feel better after just watching the news is that an akhi [Muslim brother] carried out an attack against US marines in TN! Alhamdulillah [praise be to God], the number of supporters are growing,” she told the FBI operative, according to court documents.
Initially, the couple was going to fly to Greece, and then make their way to Turkey before crossing into Syria. This was part of a plan to avoid detection by security services. But it took longer than expected to receive passports from the State Department. In the end, they simply booked a flight to Turkey with a stop in Amsterdam.
At each stage of their preparations, the unsuspecting couple kept the FBI operatives fully informed. They were arrested on Aug. 8 at an airport in Columbus, Miss., where the newlyweds were about to board a plane to take them to what they thought would be new and exciting lives in the Islamic State’s caliphate.
Instead, they were led away in handcuffs.