An Alabama woman who left the United States for Syria at age 19 to join ISIS said she “deeply regrets” supporting the terror group and longs to “return home” with her young son.
Hoda Muthana, now 24, once used social media to urge Americans to kill in support of ISIS. “Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them,” she wrote on Twitter in 2015.
Terror researcher Seamus Hughes told CNN this week that Muthana had been a “key node” among English-language ISIS propagandists. “We followed her for a number of years,” said Hughes, deputy director of the program on extremism at George Washington University.
But Muthana, who recently shared her story with international news outlets, insisted she feels remorse for pushing ISIS propaganda online, and said she was just a “naive” young woman who’d been “brainwashed” and “manipulated” by the terror group.
“I regret it,” she told ABC News. “I hope America doesn’t think I’m a threat to them and I hope they can accept me and I’m just a normal human being who’s been manipulated once and hopefully never again.”
Muthana, who was born in New Jersey and moved to Alabama when she was in the seventh grade, was reportedly radicalized as a teenager on Twitter. According to a 2015 BuzzFeed report, Muthana became acquainted with ISIS members and supporters through the social media platform, which she used to share her extremist views.
In 2014, Muthana left the U.S. without her family’s knowledge and made her way to the Syrian city of Raqqa, then an ISIS stronghold.
“When I left to Syria I was a naive, angry, and arrogant young woman,” Muthana wrote in a handwritten letter published by CNN on Wednesday. “I thought that I understood my religious beliefs.”
But, Muthana said, her views shifted dramatically after she witnessed the horrors of war in Syria — including the deaths of two of her three husbands, all of them ISIS fighters.
“During my years in Syria I would see and experience a way of life and the terrible effects of war which changed me. Seeing bloodshed up close changed me. Motherhood changed me. Seeing friends, children, and the men I married dying changed me,” she said.
Muthana said she began to realize that the beliefs ISIS were propagating diverged from her own.
“Being where I was and seeing the [people] around me scared me because I realized I didn’t want to be a part of this. My beliefs weren’t the same as theirs,” Muthana wrote in the letter.
Muthana claimed to have run away from ISIS about six weeks ago, with her 18-month-old son. She was captured by Kurdish forces and was moved to the al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria. She’s currently the only American woman among the estimated 39,000 people there, according to The Guardian.
Muthana, who said she has not been contacted by U.S. officials since her capture, said she hopes to return to America so she can reunite with her family.
Her attorney, Hassan Shibly, head of Florida’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muthana is willing to face the legal consequences.
“[W]hether it’s a few years in jail, 20 years in jail or no jail, she’s open to the legal process,” Shibly told USA Today.
Muthana said she hopes the U.S. will “forgive me for being so ignorant.”
“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East. America can take my passport and I wouldn’t mind,” she told The Guardian.
Muthana’s case has echoes of another story regarding a so-called ISIS bride that made headlines this week. Shamima Begum is a 19-year-old British citizen who, like Muthana, left her home country as a teenager to join ISIS.
Begum, who recently gave birth to a baby boy at the same refugee camp where Muthana is being held, has asked that the British government allow her to return to the U.K.
Unlike Muthana, however, Begum has said she has no regrets about joining the terror group, British newspaper The Times reported.
Begum said she wants to return to Britain because she fears for the well-being of her newborn child. U.K. officials are reportedly pushing to strip Begum of her citizenship.