Alabama woman who joined Islamic State hopes to return from camp in Syria
ROJ CAMP, Syria (AP) — An Alabama woman who ran away from home at age 20, joined the Islamic State group and had a child with one of its fighters says she still hopes to return to the United States and serve prison time. if necessary, and advocate against extremists.
In a rare interview from the Roj detention camp in Syria, where she is being held by US-allied Kurdish forces, Hoda Muthana said she was brainwashed into joining the group by online traffickers in 2014 and regrets everything except her young son, now pre-school age.
“If I need to sit in prison and do my time, I will…I won’t fight it,” the 28-year-old said. The American medium The News Movement. “I hope my government sees me as young at the time and naive.”
It is a phrase that he has repeated in several interviews with the media since he fled from one of the last enclaves of the extremist group in Syria in early 2019.
But four years earlier, at the height of the extremists’ power, he had expressed his enthusiastic support for them on social media and in an interview with BuzzFeed News. Islamic State then ruled a self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that spanned roughly a third of Syria and Iraq. In posts sent from his Twitter account in 2015, he called on Americans to join the group and carry out attacks in the US, suggesting drive-by shootings or vehicle rammings at gatherings during national holidays.
In his interview with TNM, Muthana now says his phone was taken away and the tweets were sent by Islamic State sympathizers.
Muthana was born in New Jersey to Yemeni immigrants and once held a US passport. She was raised in a conservative Muslim household in Hoover, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. In 2014, she told her family that she was going on a school trip, but flew to Turkey and crossed into Syria, financing the trip with tuition checks she had secretly cashed.
The Obama administration revoked her citizenship in 2016, saying her father was an accredited Yemeni diplomat when she was born, a rare revocation of birthright citizenship. Her lawyers have challenged that move, arguing that her father’s diplomatic clearance ended before she was born.
The Trump administration maintained that she was not a citizen and barred her from returning.even as he pressured European allies to repatriate their own detained citizens to reduce pressure on detention camps.
US courts have sided with the government on the issue of Muthana’s citizenship, and last January the Supreme Court refused to consider his request for reentry..
That has left her and her son languishing in a detention camp in northern Syria that houses thousands of widows of Islamic State fighters and their children.
Some 65,600 suspected Islamic State members and their families, both Syrian and foreign nationals, are being held in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria run by US-allied Kurdish groups, according to a Human Rights Watch report. released last month.
The women accused of affiliation with Islamic State and their minor children are largely housed in al-Hol and Roj camps, in what the rights group described as “life-threatening conditions.” Among the inmates of the camp there are more than 37,400 foreigners, including Europeans and North Americans.
Human Rights Watch and other observers have cited the appalling living conditions in the camps, including inadequate food, water, and medical care, as well as physical and sexual abuse of inmates by guards and other detainees.
Kurdish-led authorities and activists have blamed Islamic State sleeper cells for increased violence inside the facility, including the beheading of two Egyptian girls, ages 11 and 13, at al-Hol camp in november. Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish groups launched that month also hit near al-Hol. Camp officials claimed that the Turkish attacks were directed at the security forces guarding the camp.
“None of the foreigners have been brought before a judicial authority… to determine the necessity and legality of their detention, which makes their captivity arbitrary and illegal,” Human Rights Watch wrote. “Detention based solely on family ties amounts to collective punishment, a war crime.”
Calls to repatriate the detainees went largely ignored in the immediate aftermath of ISIS’s bloody reign, which was marked by massacres, beheadings and other atrocities, many of which were broadcast to the world in graphic films that circulated on social media.
But as time has passed, the pace of repatriations has begun to pick up. Human Rights Watch said some 3,100 foreigners, mostly women and children, have been sent home in the past year. Most were Iraqis, who make up the majority of those detained, but citizens were also repatriated to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom.
The United States has repatriated a total of 39 US citizens. It is not clear how many other Americans remain in the camps.
These days, Muthana presents herself as a victim of the Islamic State.
Speaking to TNM, she describes how, after arriving in Syria in 2014, she was detained in a guest house reserved for single women and children. “I have never seen that kind of dirt in my life, like there are 100 women and twice as many children, running around, too much noise, dirty beds,” she said.
The only way to escape was to marry a fighter. She eventually married and remarried three times. Her first two husbands, including the father of her son, were killed in battle. According to reports, she divorced her third husband.
The extremist group, also known as ISIS, no longer controls any territory in Syria or Iraq but continues to carry out sporadic attacks and has supporters in the camps themselves. Muthana says that he should still be careful what he says for fear of retaliation.
“Even here, right now, I can’t fully say everything I want to say. But once I’m gone, I will. I will be an advocate against this,” she said. “I wish I could help ISIS victims in the West understand that someone like me is not a part of this, that I am also a victim of ISIS.”