Return From ISIS: American Women Want Out Of Extremism

Muhammad-Fraser-Rahim, NPR

Listen to Citadel professor Muhammad Fraser-Rahim on NPR’s “On Point”

With Meghna Chakrabarti

An American woman joined the Islamic State, went to Syria, married three ISIS fighters and called for attacks on Americans. But now, she says she was brainwashed, is rejecting extremism and wants to come back — with her child.

She says she’s willing to face justice here in the U.S., but should she be allowed to come home?


Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent for the Guardian. He interviewed Hoda Muthana, an American woman who joined Isis four years ago, in the Syrian refugee camp al-Hawl. (@martinchulov)

Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, executive director for North America of Quilliam International, a counter-extremism organization. (@mfraserrahim)

Jessica Trisko Darden, professor of international affairs at American University’s School of International Service and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. (@triskodarden)

From The Reading List

New York Times: “2 American Wives of ISIS Militants Want to Return Home” — “She was a 20-year-old college student in Alabama who had become convinced of the righteousness of the Islamic State. So she duped her parents into thinking she was going on a college trip, and instead bought a plane ticket to Turkey with her tuition money.

“After being smuggled into the caliphate, the student, Hoda Muthana, posted a photograph on Twitter showing her gloved hands holding her American passport. ‘Bonfire soon,’ she promised.

“That was more than four years ago. Now, after being married to three Islamic State fighters and witnessing executions like those she had once cheered on social media, Ms. Muthana says she is deeply sorry and wants to return home to the United States.

“She surrendered last month to the coalition forces fighting ISIS, and now spends her days as a detainee in a refugee camp in northeastern Syria. She is joined there by another woman, Kimberly Gwen Polman, 46, who had studied legal administration in Canada before joining the caliphate and who possesses dual United States and Canadian citizenship.

“Both women, interviewed by The New York Times at the camp, said they were trying to figure out how to have their passports reissued, and how to win the sympathy of the two nations they scorned.

“‘I don’t have words for how much regret I have,’ said Ms. Polman, who was born into a Reformed Mennonite community in Hamilton, Ontario, to an American mother and Canadian father and who has three adult children.”

The Guardian: “Hoda Muthana ‘deeply regrets’ joining Isis and wants to return home” — “An American woman captured by Kurdish forces after fleeing the last pocket of land controlled by Islamic State says she “deeply regrets” travelling to Syria to join the terror group and has pleaded to be allowed to return to her family in Alabama.

“Once one of Isis’s most prominent online agitators who took to social media to call for the blood of Americans to be spilled, Hoda Muthana, 24, claims to have made a “big mistake” when she left the US four years ago and says she was brainwashed into doing so online.

“Speaking from al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria, while her 18-month-old son played at her feet, Muthana said she misunderstood her faith, and that friends she had at the time believed they were following Islamic tenets when they aligned themselves to Isis.”

Fox News: “ISIS wife from Alabama will not be admitted to the US, Pompeo says” — “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that an Alabama woman who joined ISIS but now wants to return home with the 18-month-old son she had with her ISIS husband will not be admitted back into the United States, saying she is not a U.S. citizen.

“‘Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,’ Pompeo said in a statement. ‘She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States. We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria.’

“Shortly afterward, President Trump said he ordered Pompeo not to admit Muthana.

“‘I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!’ the president tweeted.”

NPR: “British Woman Who Joined ISIS In Syria As Teen Is Stripped Of U.K. Citizenship” — “The British woman who moved from London to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State won’t be able to return to England, British officials say. A lawyer for the family says 19-year-old Shamima Begum’s citizenship is being revoked — an action that could render her stateless.

“Begum had wanted to return before the birth of her third child, but British Security Minister Ben Wallace said he was unwilling to risk British lives ‘to go looking for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state,’ according to The Guardian. Despite the urging of President Trump, European countries in general have been reluctant to welcome back citizens who have sided with the Islamic State.

“A letter sent Tuesday from the Home Office to Begum’s mother, and obtained by ITV News, said: ‘In light of the circumstances of your daughter … the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made.’ The Home Office asked the mother to inform her daughter of the decision, along with her right to appeal.”

Anna Bauman produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on February 21, 2019.