Alabama woman who joined ISIS hopes to return from Syria camp

Woman says she is an ISIS victim and hopes to return to the US even if it means serving prison time

Hoda Muthana in Roj detention camp in Syria in November 2022. She is being held there by US-allied Kurdish forces. AP / The News Movement
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A woman who ran away from Alabama at the age of 20, joined ISIS and had a child with one of its fighters says she still hopes to return to the US, serve prison time if necessary, and advocate against the extremists.

From Roj detention camp in Syria, where she is being held by US-allied Kurdish forces, Hoda Muthana said she was brainwashed by online traffickers into joining the group in 2014 and regrets everything except her young son, who is now of preschool age.

“If I need to sit in prison, and do my time, I will do it … I won't fight against it,” Ms Muthana, 28, told US outlet The News Movement.

“I'm hoping my government looks at me as someone young at the time and naive.”

It is a line she has repeated in media interviews since fleeing from one of the extremist group's last enclaves in Syria in early 2019.

But four years earlier, at the height of the extremists' power, she had voiced enthusiastic support for them on social media and in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

ISIS then ruled a self-declared caliphate stretching across about a third of Syria and Iraq.

In posts sent from her Twitter account in 2015, she called on Americans to join the group and carry out attacks in the US, suggesting drive-by shootings or vehicle rammings aimed at gatherings for national holidays.

Ms Muthana now says her phone was taken from her and that the tweets were sent by ISIS supporters.

She was born in New Jersey to Yemeni immigrants and once had a US passport.

Ms Muthana was raised in a conservative Muslim household in Hoover, Alabama, just outside Birmingham.

In 2014, she told her family she was going on a school trip but flew to Turkey and crossed into Syria instead, funding the travel with tuition cheques she had secretly cashed.

The administration of president Barack Obama cancelled her citizenship in 2016, saying Ms Muthana's father was an accredited Yemeni diplomat at the time she was born, in a rare revocation of birthright citizenship.

Her lawyers have disputed that move, saying the father's diplomatic accreditation ended before she was born.

The Trump administration maintained that she was not a citizen and barred her from returning, even as it pressed European allies to repatriate their own detained nationals to reduce pressure on the detention camps.

Camp Roj in Syria's north-eastern Hasakah province. AFP

US courts have sided with the government on the question of Ms Muthana's citizenship, and last January the Supreme Court declined to consider her lawsuit seeking re-entry.

That has left her and her son languishing in a detention camp in northern Syria that houses thousands of ISIS fighters' family members.

About 65,600 suspected ISIS members and their families — Syrians and foreign citizens — are held in camps and prisons in north-eastern Syria, according to a Human Rights Watch report released last month.

Women accused of affiliation with ISIS and their minor children are mainly housed in the Al Hol and Roj camps, under what the rights group described as “life-threatening conditions".

The camp inmates include more than 37,400 foreigners, among them Europeans and North Americans.

Human Rights Watch and other monitors have told of dire living conditions in the camps, including inadequate food, water and medical care, as well as physical and sexual abuse by guards and other detainees.

Women and a child queue to receive humanitarian aid packages at Al Hol in 2021. AFP
Updated: January 08, 2023, 10:17 PM