A woman who left Alabama to join Islamic State in 2014 says she regrets her actions and hopes to return to the United States.
“If I have to be in jail and do my time, I will do it… I will not fight it,” Hoda Muthana, now 28, said from Syria’s Roj detention center, according to The News Movement Associated Press. “I hope my government sees me as someone who was young and naive at the time.”
Muthana, who was born in New Jersey to Yemeni immigrants and grew up in Alabama, ran away from home at the age of 20 to join ISIS. Growing up in a conservative Muslim household, she told her family she was going on a school trip, but instead flew to Turkey and traveled to Syria with funds from secretly cashed tuition fees.
After arriving in Syria, Muthana said she was held in a guest house reserved for unmarried women and children.
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In this video footage, Hoda Muthana speaks during an interview at the Roj detention center in Syria, where she is being held by US-allied Kurdish forces. (AP Photo/The News Movement)
“I’ve never seen such dirt in my life, like 100 women and twice as many children running around, too much noise, dirty beds,” she recalled.
She said the only way out was to marry an ISIS fighter and she ended up marrying three and having one child. Her first two husbands, including her son’s father, both died in battle. Muthana says she divorced the third.
But the former American now says she regrets everything but the birth of her son and hopes to return to the US and become an anti-extremism advocate, arguing she was brainwashed by the terrorist group when she left Alabama in 2014.
Islamic State once held vast tracts of land in Iraq and Syria, and at the height of its power became famous for brutal executions and terrorist attacks, which it frequently boasted about on social media. During this time, Muthana appeared to be a vocal supporter of the group in interviews with Buzzfeed News and on social media. Posts on her Twitter account in 2015 showed that she was encouraging more Americans to join the extremist group and carry out attacks at home, including car shootings, vehicle ramming and attacks on large gatherings on national holidays.
ISIS in its former “Caliphate” capital of Raqqa, Syria. (AP)
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She now claims her phone was stolen and the posts were written by ISIS supporters, but she is now using her experience to speak out against extremism.
Muthana’s citizenship was revoked in 2016 by the Obama administration, which argued that her birthright as citizenship could be revoked because her father was an accredited Yemeni diplomat at the time of her birth. This decision has been maintained throughout the Trump administration, which has continued to bar her from returning to the United States.
Lawyers representing Muthana have claimed the move was a mistake, arguing that her diplomatic accreditation ended before she was born. But US courts have upheld the government’s position, while the Supreme Court denied its appeal to hear the case last year.
She is now in a detention center in northern Syria that houses thousands of widows of Islamic State fighters and their children. She continues to claim to have been a victim who will now take a stand against extremism.
This undated picture by attorney Hassan Shibly shows Hoda Muthana, an Alabama woman who left home to join Islamic State after becoming radicalized online. (Muthana/Attorney Hassan Shably via AP)
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“Even here right now, I can’t say everything I want to say. But as soon as I go, I will. I will fight against it,” she said. “I wish I could help the victims of ISIS in the West understand that someone like me is not part of the fact that I am also a victim of ISIS.”
Hassan Shibly, a lawyer for Muthana’s family, argues that it is “absolutely clear that she was brainwashed and taken advantage of”. He added that the family believes she should be allowed to pay off her debts to society and help others “not fall down the dark path she was led down.”
“She was absolutely misguided, and no one disputes that. But again, she was a teenager who became the victim of a very sophisticated recruitment operation focused on exploiting the young, the weak, the disenfranchised,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Michael Lee is a writer at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee