“I was really young and ignorant.”
Hoda Muthana, 24, snuck into Syria in 2014, where she married an ISIS fighter and took the name Umm Jihad, or “Mother of Jihad.” While her husband was out fighting, she posted tweets praising and encouraging terrorism.
Muthana cheered the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris and called on other Americans to come fight with ISIS in Syria, tweeting: “There are soooo many Aussies and Brits here but where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”
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She also urged the spilling of American blood at home. In March 2015, she tweeted: “Americans wake up! You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them.”
At one point, Muthana posted a photo of her US passport to Twitter and promised to burn it, saying, “Bonfire soon.”
After her first and second husbands were killed, Muthana said she married a third ISIS fighter, whom she later divorced.
Since the fall of the ISIS caliphate, Muthana has been detained with her baby son in the Kurdish-controlled Al Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria.
She told The New York Times in an interview published last week that she hoped to win the sympathy of the country she left behind.
“Once I look back on it, I can’t stress how much of a crazy idea it was,” Muthana said. “I can’t believe it. I ruined my life. I ruined my future.”
Muthana made a similar case to The Guardian, pleading youthful ignorance.
“I was really young and ignorant and I was 19 when I decided to leave,” she said. “I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East. America can take my passport and I wouldn’t mind.”
But she acknowledged that it might not be easy to convince Americans to forgive her.
“How do you go from burning a passport to crying yourself to sleep because you have so much deep regret? How do you do that?” Ms. Polman asked The Times. “How do you show people that?”
Muthana and a Canadian-American ISIS bride, Kimberly Gwen Polman, 46, who also spoke to The Times, are in touch with a lawyer who is trying to arrange for them to return to North America.
But on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that Muthana would not be allowed to return to the United States.
I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019
The United Kingdom last week revoked the citizenship of an ISIS bride making a similar plea from the same refugee camp – a legally questionable move that the country is taking increasingly often.
In explaining how she became radicalized as a Muslim teen in Hoover, Alabama, Muthana cited her strict upbringing by Yemeni immigrant parents. When she finished high school, her father gave a cellphone for the first time. She said she was quickly drawn to ISIS on social media, and in 2014, an online contact coached her on how to join the terrorist group.
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Muthana admitted that she went on to college just so she could use the tuition money to get to Syria. One day, when she was 20 years old, she told her parents she was going to an event in Atlanta, but instead flew to Turkey, where she called a number that her contact had given her and was smuggled across the border.
Both Muthana and Polman, a convert to Islam from British Columbia, claimed that they eventually started to have doubts about their move. Polman said she was raped after she tried to escape ISIS.
The women said they met in southeastern Syria as the last bastion of the caliphate was collapsing, and they each made separate escapes across the Syrian desert before surrendering to US troops. Many of their claims have not been verified.
A relatively small number of Americans, as few as 59, according to data tracked by the George Washington University Program on Extremism, are thought to have traveled to Syria to join ISIS – compared to over 900 Brits, by the UK government’s count. The New York Times reported that it knows of at least 13 ISIS wives from the United States who are still in Syria, whereas almost all the captured male fighters have been repatriated.
As part of her bid to return to the United States, Muthana gave a handwritten letter to her lawyer explaining how much she now appreciates being American.
“I realized how I didn’t appreciate or maybe even really understand how important the freedoms that we have in America are. I do now,” she wrote. “To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly.”
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