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Alabama Woman Who Joined ISIS Now Wants To Return Home05:29
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A fighter of Christian Syria militia that battles the Islamic State group under the banner of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, burns an ISIS flag on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria, in July 2017. (Hussein Malla/AP)
A fighter of Christian Syria militia that battles the Islamic State group under the banner of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, burns an ISIS flag on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria, in July 2017. (Hussein Malla/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

An Alabama woman who ran away from home to join the Islamic State in 2014 now says she wants to return to the U.S. Hoda Muthana used social media to call for attacks on the U.S. during her time with ISIS, but she now says she was brainwashed.

Hassan Shibly (@HassanShibly), an attorney and chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Florida chapter, has acted as a spokesman for Muthana's family since she left the U.S.

He tells Here & Now's Robin Young that Muthana fled ISIS with her 18-month-old son and turned herself in to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). She is now living in a refugee camp in northern Syria, Shibly says.

"She's very fearful right now, very scared because she has spoken out against ISIS very publicly, and there are still ISIS supporters and sympathizers within that vicinity," Shibly says. "But I also get the sense that she feels a burden lifted off her shoulders now that she's come out publicly condemning ISIS and realizing how they had brainwashed her and manipulated her and really turned her into a person that she now is disgusted to have been."

Interview Highlights

On her use of social media to call for attacks on the U.S. 

"Those messages are horrible and disgusting, and frankly, they sound like a lot of hate messages I get by anti-Muslim bigots in America calling for all Muslims to be killed. So it's nasty, it's disgusting, it's horrible. Nothing can justify such disgusting tweets. What we do know for a fact is that those tweets did come out in a period right after, I guess, her first husband was killed. We also know that she actually lost control over her social media while she was there, so we don't truly know what tweets actually came out from her. We know that she had been wanting to leave for some time.

"But listen, at the end of the day, we know that she is disgusted by the person she was. She deeply deeply regrets it. She, in fact, was only 19 years old when she was manipulated and brainwashed. I mean, these guys are essentially preyed on her, manipulated her, brainwashed her, brought her over there and took advantage of her for their purposes. And I think she's finally awoken, and she deeply regrets [it] and she's willing to pay whatever debt she has to society. And I think right now she really wants to be a powerful voice to condemn ISIS and to protect others from being manipulated in the way she was and protect others from making the same horrible mistakes that she had made."

On her background and family 

"She comes from a normal Muslim family. You know, Muslims are a part of the society. You know, we're human just like everyone else. You don't have to be Muslim or Christian or Jewish to know that violence is wrong. These criminal organizations, they really don't care about religion. At the end of the day, they are no different than sex traffickers and violent criminal gangs that prey on vulnerable young youth to recruit them for their nefarious purposes."

"We know that she is disgusted by the person she was. She deeply deeply regrets it."

Hassan Shibly

On the effort to bring her home 

"She is willing to turn herself in. I actually called the FBI on her behalf yesterday, and said, 'Listen, we know where she is. She wants to turn herself in, and she wants to face the legal system and then she will accept whatever outcome of that legal system is.' If she has a debt to society she wants to pay that debt and she wants to move on with her life, but before that she really wants to speak out to protect other vulnerable young women in particular from being manipulated and brainwashed in the same way that she was.

"It almost seems to be falling on deaf ears right now. The government has known where she is for quite some time. In fact, one of her other attorneys contacted the government about a month ago to inform them of her whereabouts, and they've made absolutely no effort to go and interview her, to question her, to even determine whether she's still a threat or not. And I think that's very disturbing given that since she turned herself into the PKK, already The Guardian's been able to interview her in person, The New York Times has been able to interview her in person, and it seems like those major media outlets are doing a better intelligence job than our own government officials at this point."

On her plan if the U.S. does not allow her to come back 

"I think then she's going to have to find a way to survive over there. There is a fear that the PKK may turn her over to the Syrians, which I think is very problematic. The Syrian government has the worst human rights record in the world. Otherwise, there is also a fear right now. And she's taking a big risk by speaking out against ISIS because there is a legitimate fear that the PKK may exchange her with ISIS in a prisoner swap, and if she gets back into ISIS hands, that's definitely a death sentence for her at this point."


Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with help from Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 19, 2019.

Robin Young Twitter Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.

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