Hoda Muthana

Hoda Muthana left her home in Hoover, Alabama, at the age of 20 to join ISIS in Syria. She has since married three jihadist fighters, been widowed twice, and given birth to a baby boy.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ. Following the collapse of ISIS’s so-called caliphate, Muthana and her son fled ISIS’s remaining territory and have lived in a Syrian refugee camp since January 2019. Muthana has expressed her desire to return to the United States with her child to face charges, but the U.S. government has declared that she does not have U.S. citizenship and cannot return, leaving her in a legal limbo.Enjoli Francis and James Longman, “Former ISIS bride who left US for Syria says she 'interpreted everything very wrong,’” ABC News, February 19, 2019, https://abcnews.go.com/International/isis-bride-left-us-syria-interpreted-wrong/story?id=61175508; “Statement on Hoda Muthana,” U.S. Department of State, February 20, 2019, https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2019/02/289558.htm; Donald J. Trump, Twitter post, February 20, 2019, 4:05 p.m., https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1098327855145062411.

Muthana’s father, Ahmed Ali, worked as a U.N. diplomat on behalf of Yemen and moved to the United States with his wife in 1992.Natalie Musumeci and Ruth Brown, “ISIS bride’s lawyer says he has proof she’s still US citizen,” New York Post, February 20, 2019, https://nypost.com/2019/02/20/isis-brides-nj-birth-certificate-doesnt-prove-us-citizenship-experts/; Kim Hjelmgaard, “ISIS bride Hoda Muthana's family files lawsuit against Trump,” USA Today, February 22, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/02/22/hoda-muthana-isis-brides-family-file-lawsuit-against-trump-pompeo/2948575002/. Muthana and her siblings were all born in the United States, while their parents have both become naturalized citizens. Muthana graduated from Alabama’s Hoover High School in May 2013. Her father presented her with her first cellphone as a graduation gift, but he implemented tight restrictions. Women in the family were forbidden from using social media or messaging applications to communicate with non-family members. Muthana’s parents were concerned she was communicating with boys, but when her father regularly searched her phone, he instead discovered Quranic readings and other Islamic religious applications. Muthana told Buzzfeed News that Islamic scholars on the Internet swayed her more than her local Muslim community.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

In the fall of 2013, Muthana secretly created a Twitter account, through which she met ISIS supporters such as Aqsa Mahmood, a Scottish teen who fled to ISIS-held territory in November 2013. The same month Mahmood left, Muthana began planning her own trip.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

In November 2014, Muthana told her parents she was going to Atlanta for the day on a school trip. Her father was in Washington, D.C., at the time. Muthana then told her family she missed her bus home and had to spend the night. The next day, she called her sister from Turkey to say she was joining ISIS. When Muthana spoke with her father the next day, she had already crossed into Syria.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

Muthana funded her trip using her college tuition money. She signed up for classes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and then immediately withdrew. She used the refunded tuition to buy her plane ticket to Turkey.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ. In December 2014, Muthana told her father she wanted to come home and asked for $2,500 to get to the Turkish border. He sent the money but she did not return. Muthana later told BuzzFeed News that she never intended to return.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

In early December 2014, Muthana posted a group photo on Twitter of what appears to be four women holding foreign passports and announcing their intention to burn the documents. In March, Muthana called for violence in the United States over Memorial Day.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.


In late December 2014, Muthana told her father she had married an ISIS fighter. She told BuzzFeed Media that she did not need the traditional permission of her father because he sided against ISIS. After her husband was killed in a Jordanian airstrike in March 2015, Muthana’s father again tried to convince her to come home. Muthana again refused and said she was willing to die for her beliefs. In a deleted Ask.fm post, Muthana said she looked forward to seeing her mother again in Jannah (heaven), but “Allah and His Messenger come first.”Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

Muthana family spokesman Hassan Shibly, who is also chief executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida, told reporters in April 2015 that Muthana had been “abused” and “brainwashed” by ISIS. According to Shibly, Muthana withdrew from the Muslim community a year before she left “because she knew that the community was not sympathetic to those extremists groups.”“Alabama woman joins Islamic State in Syria: media,” Reuters, April 21, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/21/us-usa-security-alabama-idUSKBN0NC0OR20150421. Muthana’s father also believes his daughter has been brainwashed. Muthana responded that all parents of ISIS foreign fighters believe that of their children.Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ.

Soon after the death of her first husband, Muthana married a Tunisian foreign fighter with whom she had a son, Adam. After that husband was killed, she married a Syrian ISIS fighter in 2018. Following the collapse of ISIS’s caliphate, Muthana fled with her son. They were captured by Kurdish forces in January 2019 and placed in the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria alongside approximately 1,500 other ISIS wives and children.Martin Chulov and Bethan McKernan, “Hoda Muthana ‘deeply regrets’ joining Isis and wants to return home,” Guardian (London), February 17, 2019, ="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/us-woman-hoda-muthana-deeply-regrets-joining-isis-and-wants-return-home">https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/us-woman-hoda-muthana-deeply-regrets-joining-isis-and-wants-return-home.

Muthana has declared her desire to return to the United States, but she faces legal obstacles. In a February 19, 2019, interview with ABC News, Muthana said that she regretted her actions and wanted to return to the United States with her 18-month-old son.Enjoli Francis and James Longman, “Former ISIS bride who left US for Syria says she 'interpreted everything very wrong,’” ABC News, February 19, 2019, https://abcnews.go.com/International/isis-bride-left-us-syria-interpreted-wrong/story?id=61175508. On February 20, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and would not be admitted to the United States.“Statement on Hoda Muthana,” U.S. Department of State, February 20, 2019, https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2019/02/289558.htm. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that he had instructed Pompeo “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!”Donald J. Trump, Twitter post, February 20, 2019, 4:05 p.m., https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1098327855145062411.

Pompeo’s statement did not specify what led the administration to conclude that Muthana did not hold U.S. citizenship or the right to citizenship, but he later clarified that Muthana does not qualify for birthright citizenship because of her father’s diplomatic status. Though Muthana was born in the United States, children of foreign diplomats born in the country are not eligible for automatic citizenship. Muthana’s family argues that her father’s diplomatic service officially ended a month before she was born. According to the family’s attorney, Muthana received a U.S. passport as a child after her father had provided documentation from the United Nations that he had been discharged before her birth. Immigration experts argue that Muthana’s U.S. passport is proof of her citizenship and the Trump administration therefore cannot declare her a non-citizen.Rukmini Callimachi and Alan Yuhas, “Alabama Woman Who Joined ISIS Can’t Return Home, U.S. Says,” New York Times, February 20, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/world/middleeast/isis-bride-hoda-muthana.html; Natalie Musumeci and Ruth Brown, “ISIS bride’s lawyer says he has proof she’s still US citizen,” New York Post, February 20, 2019, https://nypost.com/2019/02/20/isis-brides-nj-birth-certificate-doesnt-prove-us-citizenship-experts/; Ellie Hall, “Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/gone-girl-an-interview-with-an-american-in-isis#.heGXm80KZ; Isaac Stanley-Becker, “‘Rule by tyranny’: American-born woman who joined ISIS must be allowed to return, lawsuit says,” Washington Post, February 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/22/rule-by-tyranny-american-born-woman-who-joined-isis-must-be-allowed-return-lawsuit-says/?utm_term=.45c5c1c2bd78. The Muthana family filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on February 21, 2019, to allow their daughter to return to the United States.Kim Hjelmgaard, “ISIS bride Hoda Muthana's family files lawsuit against Trump,” USA Today, February 22, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/02/22/hoda-muthana-isis-brides-family-file-lawsuit-against-trump-pompeo/2948575002/.

CAIR Florida’s Shibly, who has continued to advise the Muthana family, claimed also that Muthana sought to return to the United States to face charges and take responsibility for her actions. According to Shibly, Muthana recognizes that she had “been completely brainwashed” by ISIS.Natalie Musumeci, “Hoda Muthana’s lawyer: Few people ‘resent ISIS’ as much as she,” New York Post, February 21, 2019, https://nypost.com/2019/02/21/hoda-muthanas-lawyer-few-people-resent-isis-as-much-as-her/.

On November 14, 2019, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled that Muthana’s father was still employed as a Yemeni diplomat at the time of her birth and Muthana therefore did not have U.S. citizenship. The court recognized that Ahmed Ali Muthana had been fired from his position representing Yemen at the United Nations in either June or September 1990, while Hoda Muthana was born that October.Ellie Hall, “A Judge Has Ruled That A Woman Who Left The US For ISIS Is Not An American Citizen,” BuzzFeed News, November 14, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ellievhall/hoda-muthana-isis-not-american-citizen. According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the sending state must notify the receiving state of a diplomat’s termination and the receiving state must acknowledge receipt before a diplomatic agent’s function is formally terminated.“Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” United Nations, 2003, http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_1_1961.pdf. According to documents submitted to the court, the United Nations did not receive notification of Muthana’s termination until February 6, 1995, almost fourth months after Hoda Muthana’s birth.Ellie Hall, “A Judge Has Ruled That A Woman Who Left The US For ISIS Is Not An American Citizen,” BuzzFeed News, November 14, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ellievhall/hoda-muthana-isis-not-american-citizen.

Walton further ruled that any financial support given to Muthana or her 2-year-old child by her parents would constitute material support to terrorism. Hoda Muthana’s legal counsel expected to appeal the decision.Ellie Hall, “A Judge Has Ruled That A Woman Who Left The US For ISIS Is Not An American Citizen,” BuzzFeed News, November 14, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ellievhall/hoda-muthana-isis-not-american-citizen.

On January 19, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the district court’s decision on Muthana’s citizenship, ruling that “Hoda Muthana is not now and never was a citizen of the United States,” and “because Hoda is not a citizen, neither is her son, who was born abroad to two alien parents.”Circuit Judge Neomi Rao, “Ahmed Ali Muthana, Individually, and as Next Friend of Hoda Muthana and Minor John Doe, Appellant v. Michael R. Pompeo,” United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, January 19, 2021, https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/97F4C9BA474983DE8525866200567816/$file/19-5362-1880558.pdf.

On March 31, 2021, Muthana’s sister, Arwa Muthana, and Arwa’s husband, James Bradley, were arrested in New Jersey for attempting to and conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. Arwa and Bradley were allegedly planning to travel to Yemen by cargo ship with the aim of joining ISIS.“Sister of Alabama ISIS Bride Hoda Muthana Arrested with Husband While Allegedly Trying to Join Terrorists,” AL.com, April 2, 2021, https://www.al.com/news/2021/04/sister-of-alabama-isis-bride-hoda-muthana-arrested-with-husband-while-allegedly-trying-to-join-terrorists.html; “Man and Woman Charged with Attempting and Conspiring to Provide Material Support to ISIS,” U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Public Affairs, April 1, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/man-and-woman-charged-attempting-and-conspiring-provide-material-support-isis.

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