Starkville man pleads guilty to terrorism charge

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

A young Starkville man pleaded guilty Friday to a terrorism charge, months after being arrested after trying to go to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) terror group, officials said.

Muhammad Dakhlalla, 23, of Starkville changed his plea in federal court Friday for providing material support to terrorism and faces up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 in fines and life prohibition.

No sentencing date has been set.

Dakhlalla was arrested in August with his fiancee, Jaelyn Delshaun Young of Vicksburg, in August at the Golden Triangle Regional airport in Columbus after attempting to join IS by flying to Turkey and escaping over the then-porous Turkish-Syrian border.

In the August 2015 complaint against the couple, authorities say they contacted an undercover FBI agent last year, to guide their joinery to war-torn Syria.

The document shows that in June 2015, Young was identified through social media platforms as a supporter of the terror group. After contacting Young, the undercover agent linked Dakhlalla to Young later in the month. The couple went as far as expediting passports and had flights booked before being apprehended.

Dakhlalla—a Mississippi State University graduate—was preparing to earn his graduate degree from MSU before his subsequent arrest last summer.

New court papers filed with the plea portray Young as the mastermind of the couple's attempt to join IS, and said she had already expressed an interest in converting to Islam even before she began dating Dakhlalla in 2014, according to the Associated Press.

The new documents show the pair left farewell letters "that explained they would never be back, with Young acknowledging her role as the planner of the expedition and that Dakhlalla was going as her companion of his own free will."

The initial complaint document shows he 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."

Young posted online support for the perpetrator of an attack in which four U.S. Marines were killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee in July 2015, the complaint shows.

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

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 Thursday, 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. Al-Bakkar was later handed over to Iraqi authorities, according to Pentagon officials.

On Friday, 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.

Young's trial is set for June 6. The pair remain in jail without bail in Oxford.