10 Things American Families Can Learn from Mississippi ISIS Arrests
This month's arrest of a young Mississippi couple who allegedly tried to run off to the Islamic State together provides textbook examples of how ISIS tries to lure Westerners to jihad.
Jaelyn Young, 19, and Muhammad Dakhlalla, 22, of Starkville have been charged with conspiring and attempting to provide material support to ISIS. A judge denied bond for the couple last week.
According to The Clarion-Ledger, the two had been in a relationship for a matter of months. Young's father is a Vicksburg police officer and her mother is a middle-school principal. She was a recent convert to Islam and a student at Mississippi State. Dakhlalla graduated from Mississippi State and was working toward his master's degree in psychology. His parents -- the father born in Bethlehem, the mother from New Jersey -- ran a restaurant.
Unbeknownst to the pair, they were chatting online with FBI employees beginning in May when they thought they were talking with Islamic State contacts. The pair ended up buying a ticket to Istanbul through Amsterdam, attempting to fly out of Columbus, Miss., on Aug. 8. They were arrested before they could leave the country.
Many of those conversations included info straight from ISIS handbooks that are distributed online or highlighted things that people should watch for in discerning jihadist sympathies in those around them.
1. Red-flag conversations
Young, communicating with an FBI employee posing as an ISIS member, said that among Muslims she knew in the community "many of the family members and members of the community do not support Dawlah [Islamic State]." The criminal complaint states that Young "expressed that she disagreed with those family and community members and stated '...Dawlah is correct.'"
In a paper for the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program, Jahangir E. Arasli writes that "although the percentage of violent converts is small, evidence suggests they constitute a growing pool of hundreds, if not thousands, of very dangerous people who represent direct security threats." What were these discussions she was having in which she was gauging others' support for ISIS? With whom? Who didn't raise the red flags? This highlights a major hole in trying to stop the next Boston bombers or Chattanooga shooter: people engaging with would-be jihadis about the subject, but not passing on red-flag information to the proper authorities.
2. The Hijrah
"In that same conversation Young announced that she is preparing for 'hijjrah,' a common reference to journeying to the Islamic State. She further stated, 'I have [a] hijjrah partner and we are planning to leave before August.' She went on to discuss some of her concerns about being monitored by Government agencies, and she also added that her travel partner was a 'brother' and that she would have to have 'nikkah' with him so they could travel together without an escort."
ISIS markets special guides to females on making hijrah, or the caliphate pilgrimage, and also tutors its followers around the world on how to keep government agencies off their tail. FBI Director James Comey has said this is one of the most dangerous parts about ISIS: when they "go dark" online by focusing on encryption, they fall off the grid of what the agency is able to track.
From an August 2014 "cheat sheet" circulated online:
“One might be asking themselves if they can continue using their old social media on these. The answer is yes, but I do not recommend it whatsoever. If one feels they post things in which they would need this security, which is most Muslims upon haqq who are active online, then they should make a disclaimer saying something similar to, ‘I recant all opinions deemed dangerous or violent expressed on this page. This page was run for educational and analytic purposes only, to study the radical Muslim community for recreational purposes. I invite all those who follow this page to leave such corrupt ideology. I am not affiliated with any groups or organizations deemed terrorist or dangerous otherwise by any Western government or union of governments. I am a law abiding citizen in every regard.’”
“And then proceed to delete all other tweets/posts on the page and after leaving this up for a few minutes, simply delete the page. Make no indication that you have done this based on instructions. You are in a war with these people, we have discussed this earlier. Now, once you are on either TOR with a VPN, TOR, and/or TAILS OS, make a new bitmessage email. Make an alias. Sign-up for Twitter on TOR. Do not post pictures or any indication of who you are explicitly. If you feel the need to alter your writing style a bit, if you were a popular page, do so. You can make subtle indications that this is so and so, however, nothing that can be proven in a court of law. Allah’u must’a'n, may we never see inside one of those rooms for such a purpose.”
It's also important to note that while social media sites try to take down ISIS accounts, they're overwhelmed to the point where al-Qaeda accounts go practically unnoticed. Jihadist material also tends to go unnoticed in the black hole of file-sharing sites.
3. ISIS wants people to build a state
Young discussed skills that she and Dakhlalla could contribute to the caliphate: "I am skilled in math and chemistry and worked at an analytical lab here at my college campus. My partner is very good with like computer science/media. We learn very fast and would love to help with giving medical aid." The FBI employee then contacted Dakhlalla via social media and he confirmed, "I am good with computers, education and media. What could I contribute to Dawlah?"
ISIS not only distributes photo essays of beheadings and Shariah punishments throughout the day, but things like dairy farms and teacher exams. Their "job postings" don't just call for jihadists, but for engineers, HR professionals, administrators and more. A May video with Australian Dr. Tareq Kamleh showed him working at a hospital in Raqqa and encouraging other Muslim medical professionals to come over.
4. ISIS wants to acclimate Westerners for a special reason
Dakhlalla asked, "Would we be appointed to a city or would we choose to go where we want to live when we arrive?" Young later told a second FBI employee poising as an ISIS financier that Dakhlalla "wants to help with media group and really wants to correct the falsehoods hear here. US has a thick cloud of falsehood and very little truth about Dawlah makes it through and if it does then usually the links are deleted (like on youtube and stuff)." She added that Dakhlalla said "a lot of Muslims are caught on their doubts of IS [because] of what US media says and he wants to assure them the US media is all lies when regarding Dawlah. After he sees change in that, he wanted to joint the Mujahideen."
A May guide by British jihadist Siddhartha Dhar focused heavily on all of the creature comforts of home that his compatriots could find in the Islamic State, from “fluffy, velvety and sweet” ice cream to Snickers bars and "some of the best lattes and cappuccinos around." Once they reel in Westerners, they can do what Dhar is doing -- speak in a voice that Westerners understand, bridge cultural divides, and rally them to jihad in or out of the Islamic State.