An American woman who left the United States four years ago to join the Islamic State in Syria says she “deeply regrets” doing so and has pleaded for her home country to allow her to return to her family in Alabama.
Hoda Muthana, who rose to prominence on social media as she repeatedly called for American blood to be spilled, was captured by Kurdish forces after escaping from the last ISIS stronghold in Syria. And now, the 24-year-old admits that she made “a big mistake” when she left the U.S. and claims that online brainwashing was behind her decision to head to the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Muthana, who is now at the al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria with her 18-month-old son, said both she and her friends believed they were following the correct Islamic principles by joining the Islamic State terror group.
“We were basically in the time of ignorance […] and then became jihadi, if you like to describe it that way,” she said.
“I thought I was doing things correctly for the sake of God.”
The young mother added that the fact that her family was very conservative and controlling also played a role in her radicalization process.
“You want to go out with your friends and I didn’t get any of that. I turned to my religion and went in too hard. I was self-taught and thought whatever I read, it was right.”
“I look back now and I think I was very arrogant. Now I’m worried about my son’s future. In the end I didn’t have many friends left, because the more I talked about the oppression of Isis the more I lost friends. I was brainwashed once and my friends are still brainwashed,” she claimed.
Muthana fled her home in Alabama in November 2014 when she boarded a flight to Turkey after keeping her escape plan under wraps for months. She joined the so-called caliphate during their period of exponential rise and witnessed their steep downfall in the past few years.
Upon her arrival in Syria, she settled in the city of Raqqa, which used to be one ISIS’s two main hubs, and married Australian jihadist Suhan Rahman – who would become the first of her three husbands. When he was killed during battle, Muthana made headlines by tweeting that Americans had to “wake up.”
“Go on drivebys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them,” she wrote at the time.
Not long after, she married a Tunisian fighter (the father of her son Adam), but he, too, was killed in Mosul. After that, Muthana and dozens of other brides retreated into what was left of ISIS’s land and ended up marrying a Syrian fighter in 2018. But now that the radical Islamic group has lost most of their land and fighters, Muthana fled the village of Susa and was picked up by the Kurdish, who brought her to the refugee camp, where she is the only American among a total of 39,000 people.
“It was like a movie. You read one book and think you know everything. I’m really traumatized by my experience.”