LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - A University of Southern Mississippi professor warns the ISIS threat in America is very real, and the arrests of two Mississippi college students should serve as a wakeup call. Dr. Robert Pauly said he wasn't surprised at all after learning that 19-year-old Jaelyn Young and 22-year-old Muhammad Dakhlalla are accused of trying to join the terror group. He explained how ISIS can recruit future fighters in Mississippi without having to set foot on U.S. soil.
The arrests of two students who attended Mississippi State were on the minds of many USM students as they registered for classes in Long Beach on Wednesday.
"Of course it's going to shock you and surprise you, especially coming from Mississippi," said USM senior Crystal Stinson.
"Hopefully, this wakes some of the younger generation up to what can happen when you don't make the right decision," said USM senior Matthew Fisher.
"I'm not surprised, because this is something that's a threat in all 50 states in the country," said Pauly, USM Associate Professor of International Development.
Pauly is an expert on Middle East politics and international security. He just taught a summer class called Evolution of Political Islam and the Greater Middle East and the West. Pauly said ISIS is recruiting fighters by taking advantage of Facebook, chat rooms and even text messages.
"They're targeting individuals who have grown up with social media," Pauly said. "It's really an unprecedented threat that we face."
Pauly said the young Mississippi couple who are accused of being ISIS recruits certainly fit the profile that terrorists are targeting. He said they focus on young people in their teens to late 20s who live in Muslim communities and those who don't have a sense of belonging in mainstream society.
"They're looking for individuals who are presently Muslims or want to convert to Islam that believe in their interpretation of religion," said Pauly. "ISIS is targeting anyone in this generation who may want to sympathize with its perversion of Islam for any reason."
Pauly encourages everyone to be vigilant. Look for the warning signs among family, friends and co-workers, especially if they express views that support ISIS and its ideology.
"If there's a threat, the more vigilant you are, the less oblivious you are to things going on, the better chance you probably have to stop it before it comes to fruition, whether it means someone goes to Syria or someone who stages an attack here," said Pauly.
Several students say another powerful weapon is education.
"It wants me to educate myself and those around me more about this group and its intentions. Knowledge is power. The only way we can fight ISIS, as with any other social issue that we have, is through education," said Stinson.
Pauly said ISIS is trying to recruit men to travel to Iraq and Syria to reinforce the troops. He said women are needed to have children and raise future terrorists.