Northern Syria — Hoda Muthana left Alabama at the age of 19 to join ISIS of her own free will. Now she wants to come home, with her young son, but whether she will be able to get back into the United States is completely out of her hands.
Muthana, now 24, insists she has the right to come back, and she’s pleading for a second chance. The Trump administration, however, does not consider her a U.S. citizen. On Monday a D.C. federal court will hear Muthana’s case.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata met Muthana in Northern Syria, where she has been detained by America’s Kurdish allies since handing herself in in January. D’Agata asked her what she would tell the Americans who say she’s not welcome in the United States anymore.
“I was only 19 when I made my decision. And you know, people when they’re young they make very big stupid mistakes,” Muthana said.
Mistakes don’t come much bigger or more stupid than joining a terrorist group bent on destroying America and, allegedly, personally inciting attacks on Americans, too.
While she says she gave up her passport to ISIS when she arrived in Syria in 2014, that didn’t mean giving up her U.S. citizenship. Now, however, the President of the United States himself has said she’s not welcome back. So what would she say to Mr. Trump personally?
“I would tell him to study the legal system, because apparently I am allowed back. I have papers. I have citizenship,” she insisted.
Muthana’s case is hinged on the fact that she was born in the United States, in New Jersey, to Yemeni parents. Her father had worked in the U.S. as a diplomat, but the family says he was not one at the time of Muthana’s birth. Diplomats’ children do not automatically have U.S. citizenship as do the children of other foreign nationals born on U.S. soil.
“We’re still trying to win the case and hopefully we will,” Muthana told D’Agata, thousands of miles away from the court that will consider her fate on Monday. “I know I am an American citizen and I know I have the right to come back. I have no other citizenship anywhere. Even my own home country I don’t. I’ve never been there (Yemen).”
At the same time, Muthana said she understands the anger and hatred she’s caused in the United States.
“I ruined my life. I’ve ruined it. I ruined my son’s future, but I wouldn’t have had a son if I didn’t come. That’s the only regret I don’t have,” she told D’Agata. “I want to see him grow up, I want to raise him.”
Muthana said she had wanted to flee ISIS’ territory before she eventually managed to get away as the group’s territory was decimated. She spoke of seeing dead bodies in the streets and severed heads stuck on poles as a warning from ISIS to its enemies, and any potential traitors.
“Seeing it with your own eyes it’s, it’s extreme, it’s not Islamic at all,” she said.
About six months ago, Muthana said she started trying to escape.
“People like me, I’ve been wanting to leave for a while and I just couldn’t, because I didn’t have the money to,” she said, adding that the lowest cost she had heard of for a smuggler to get her away from ISIS was $6,000. “We were held hostage there basically and the only way to leave was to go through a field of IEDs, or snipers from ISIS shooting at you.”
Muthana told CBS News she would be willing to go to jail if that’s what it takes to get back to America.
But what’s to become of Adam, the son she had with an ISIS fighter who was killed on the battlefield?
“They didn’t even have a birth certificate,” she said of ISIS terrorists who ran the now non-existent Islamic “caliphate” she left America for. “Nothing.”
“I wish I could tell the people that I I don’t — I’m not a threat to America,” Muthana told D’Agata, saying she believes she was manipulated by ISIS and its anti-U.S. propaganda from the beginning. “I hope no one sees me as a threat, and I hope everyone gives me a second chance.”