WASHINGTON • A newlywed couple from Mississippi, held after being accused of seeking to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group on a planned honeymoon trip, have been denied bail.
The US Justice Department said the arrests were part of a continuing effort to stop the flow of Americans seeking to fight in the Middle East after being lured by online recruiters to join groups the government has designated terrorist organisations, said the New York Times.
The couple, Jaelyn Delshaun Young, 19, and Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 22, were arrested by FBI agents on their way to the airport in Columbus, Mississippi, last Saturday after unwittingly making travel plans with undercover federal agents on social media that included discussing a trip to Syria via Greece and Turkey as a honeymoon ruse.
"Our story will be that we are newlyweds on our honeymoon," Young wrote in an e-mail to a federal agent posing as an ISIS recruiter, the criminal complaint said. Citing their methodical planning, judge Allan Alexander ordered the two held without bail, pending possible charges by a federal grand jury. They could face up to 20 years in prison, according to Reuters.
"This case demonstrates the need for continued vigilance and swift action to fight the false allure of foreign terrorist organisations that threaten the security of the United States," said US attorney for the Central District of California Eileen Decker in a statement.
The authorities said the couple - from Starkville, Mississippi - had boasted to the undercover agent that they were unlikely to encounter any trouble because the airport in Columbus where they would catch a flight had little security.
"That's one US weakness - small towns' airports have poor funding and less educated staffs so it is easier to get through," Young wrote on Aug 4.
In another e-mail, Young, a former chemistry major at Mississippi State University, said Dakhlalla was worried about being arrested by the Turkish authorities once they arrived in Istanbul. Five days later, federal agents arrested the couple as they arrived for their flight at the airport in Columbus.
It is believed that investigators had been monitoring the couple since May.
The detentions are the latest in an effort by the Justice Department to stop people from travelling to Syria, Iraq and elsewhere by making arrests before they board flights out of the US.
Meanwhile in Chicago on Tuesday, Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 21, of Illinois, who was arrested in April 2013 while trying to board a plane to Istanbul to join the Nusra Front, pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS