JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In fresh details provided as a young Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a terrorism-related charge, federal prosecutors said his fiancée led him toward a plan to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Muhammad Dakhlalla, 23, pleaded guilty Friday in Aberdeen to providing material support to terrorism and faces up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 fines and lifetime probation. U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock hasn't set his sentencing date yet.
His fiancée, Jaelyn Delshaun Young, is set for trial June 6 before Aycock. Plea agreements typically require cooperation with federal prosecutors, so Dakhlalla's plea makes it likely that he would testify against Young if a trial proceeds.
Both remain jailed without bail in Oxford.
A five-page statement of facts added new details about Young's conversion to Islam and her influence on Dakhlalla, who had been raised as a Muslim. The pair at one point planned to claim they were going on their honeymoon while traveling to Syria.
Young, a sophomore chemistry major at Mississippi State University at the time of her arrest, is the daughter of a school administrator and a police officer who served in the Navy reserve. She was a former honor student, cheerleader and homecoming maid at Vicksburg's Warren Central High School.
Dakhlalla is a 2011 psychology graduate of Mississippi State who grew up in Starkville, a son of a prominent figure in the college town's Muslim community. He is the youngest of three sons and was preparing to start graduate school at the university.
By the time Young began dating Dakhlalla in November 2014, she was already interested in converting to Islam. Prosecutors say she announced her conversion in March and began wearing a burkha, 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 they expected to prove if the case had gone to trial. "Dakhlalla taught Young how to pray and to recite the Quran in Arabic, and Young began watching YouTube videos about Islamic law."
Those videos included pro-Islamic State messages from Anjem Choudry, a British Muslim preacher who faces criminal charges of supporting the Islamic State
The statement of facts says Dakhlalla's fiancée increasingly complained about the treatment of Muslims in the United States and United Kingdom. Prosecutors said Young approvingly cited a video of a man accused of being gay being thrown off a roof to his death by Islamic State militants. They say she and Dakhlalla, after watching pro-Islamic State videos, began to view them as liberators.
"Young continually asked Dakhlalla when they were going to join (the Islamic State) and began to express hatred for the U.S. government and to express support for the implementation of Sharia law in the United States," prosecutors wrote.
The court papers reiterate earlier government claims that Young and then Dakhlalla contacted undercover FBI employees online stating they wanted help to travel to Islamic State territory. Dakhlalla, in online contacts, said he was good with computers and media and wanted to contribute to the Islamic State's struggle. Court papers say Dakhlalla said online that he wanted to become a fighter and learn "what it really means to have that heart in battle."
The couple was arrested Aug. 8 before boarding a flight from an airport near Columbus, Mississippi, with tickets for Istanbul. The papers confirm that both Young and Dakhlalla 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."
A spokesman for Dakhlalla's family said the case laid out by prosecutors portraying him as following his fiancée down a path to radicalization is "fair and reasonable."
Attorney Dennis Harmon, who is speaking for the family but not representing Dakhlalla, said the young man did little beyond respond to a federal judge's questions as he pleaded guilty Friday.
The plea agreement drops a related charge against Dakhlalla, cutting the possible length of any imprisonment. However, in the plea agreement signed Wednesday, Dakhlalla and his lawyer acknowledged that the sentencing recommendation would be adjusted upward because terrorism is involved.
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