Hoda Muthana left her family in Alabama when she was 20 to become a US ISIS bride in Syria. In the first test case for President Trump, who called on European countries to take back their foreign fighters, Muthana, now 24, says she has changed her beliefs and wants to return with her 18-month-old son.
Claiming she was radicalized online after a religiously restrictive (but not extremist) childhood, Muthan now describes her younger self as “naive, angry and arrogant.” After a year in college, she used her college tuition money to buy a ticket to Turkey from where she made her way into ISIS territory in Syria.
“During my years in Syria, I would see and experience a way of life and the terrible effects of war, which changed me,” Muthana wrote in a letter. “Seeing bloodshed up close changed me. Motherhood changed me. Seeing friends, children and the men I married dying changed me. Seeing how different a society could be compared to the beloved America I was born and raised into changed me …
“I thought I was doing things correctly for the sake of God. And when I came here and saw everything with my own eyes I realized I’ve made a big mistake. I know I’ve ruined my future and my son’s future and I deeply, deeply regret it,” she said.
However, while the American men who were captured were repatriated, at least 13 known American women and children were not for reasons that remain unclear.
Muthana is the only American inside a refugee camp in Syria of 39,000 people, including 1,500 foreign women and children. Like many other ISIS wives, she fled the village of Susa where she was living, an area near Baghuz which has now become the front line in the fight to overtake ISIS’ last remaining territory.
After sleeping in the desert for two nights, she was captured by Kurdish forces which brought her to the al-Hawl refugee camp.
She, like all the women are prohibited from leaving the camp which is secured by armed guards.
The first year of her four years with ISIS she spent tweeting exhortations to fellow Muslims to spill American blood, an account that has now been taken over by others, she says.
She married an Australian jihadist, who was killed in the battle of Kobani; then a Tunisian, who was killed in Mosul and who is the father of her son; and briefly, last year, a Syrian fighter.
Muthana represents a unique case. She is the first spouse of an ISIS fighter to ask to come home – a request that appears is being ignored by the U.S. government.
Hassan Shilby, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the legal representative of Muthana’s family, said Muthana wants to return to the U.S. to face justice and “pay any debts she has to society.”
Shilby also said she wants to become a voice against the Islamic State and help de-radicalize other Americans.
“The government needs to engage with her, but not just her; all of these people who joined ISIS,” said Shilby. “If she broke the law, then the justice system can deal with her, and if she didn’t break the law, she should come back anyway, so it can be determined if she is a threat.”
Shilby expressed frustration that “The [New York] Times, The Guardian and ABC News have all been able to meet with her and interview her, and the government has not been able to do that.”
Barring the fact that Shilby works for CAIR, an Islamist group that is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood network in the U.S., the sentiments that Shilby expressed are correct.
If Trump expects Europe to repatriate their foreign fighters, presumably bring them to justice and, of course, if at all possible, rehabilitate them, then America needs to take the lead and do the same.