Washington • President Donald Trump said Wednesday that an Alabama woman who joined the Islamic State will not be allowed back into the United States, prompting an outcry from the woman’s lawyer, who vowed to pursue legal action.
Hoda Muthana, 24, left her home in Alabama in 2014 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria. She now lives with her young son in a Syrian refugee camp.
"I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!" Trump tweeted Wednesday evening.
I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019
In an interview with the Guardian published Sunday, Muthana said she regrets her decision to join the Islamic State and is seeking to return to the United States.
"I look back now and I think I was very arrogant. Now I'm worried about my son's future," she told the newspaper, describing herself as having been "brainwashed."
Muthana's lawyer, Hassan Shibly, told The Washington Post Wednesday night that his client is "genuinely remorseful" about her decision.
"I don't know if there are many Americans right now who hate ISIS as much as Hoda does," Shibly said. "Ultimately, I think she's trying to face our legal system, and Trump is trying to give her a free pass by saying she's not in our jurisdiction."
Trump's tweet about the case comes during the same week that another woman who joined ISIS, Shamima Begum, had her British citizenship revoked.
In Muthana's case, both sides are at odds over whether the woman, who was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, was ever a U.S. citizen in the first place.
Earlier Wednesday, Pompeo said in a statement that she "is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States."
"She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States. We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria," he said.
But Shibly, who is based in Tampa, Florida, responded by tweeting a photo of his client's birth certificate, which shows that Muthana was born in Hackensack in October 1994.
He also released a 2004 document from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations certifying that Muthana's father was serving as a diplomat until Sept. 1, 1994, one month before Muthana was born.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a child born in the United States to an accredited foreign diplomat is not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and therefore is not eligible for citizenship under the 14th Amendment.
Muthana previously held a passport and is a U.S. citizen, Shibly said, accusing the Trump administration of attempting to "wrongfully strip citizens of their citizenship." He said he would be taking legal action on behalf of Muthana in the coming days.
A State Department spokesperson declined to discuss the case in detail, citing privacy considerations.
"There are many reasons that an individual previously issued a passport may subsequently be found ineligible for that passport," the spokesperson said. "If it is determined that the bearer was not entitled to the issued passport, the passport may be revoked and/or a renewal application denied."
Muthana recently wrote a letter to her family in which she described how her experience in Syria had changed her.
"In my quiet moments, in between bombings, starvation, cold and fear I would look at my beautiful little boy and know that I didn't belong here and neither did he," she said in the handwritten letter, a copy of which was provided by Shibly. "I would think sometimes of my family, my friends, and the life that I knew and I realized how I didn't appreciate or maybe even really understand how important the freedoms that we have in America are. I do now."
In a 2015 interview with BuzzFeed News, Muthana identified herself as a then-20-year-old ISIS member from Hoover, Alabama. She was born in the United States to strict parents who moved to the country from Yemen in 1992.
Her father, Mohammed, told BuzzFeed he gave his daughter a smartphone after she graduated from Hoover High School in May 2013.
Muthana said her curiosity about religion soon became a major part of her life, and watching scholars lecture about Islam on YouTube led her to memorizing portions of the Koran. What her father didn't know, she told BuzzFeed, was that she had also created a secret Twitter account in which she amassed thousands of followers and eventually "met" ISIS members.
"I literally isolated myself from all my friends and community members the last year I was in America," she told the website, adding she didn't associate with anyone who did not share her interpretation of Islam, which required that every Muslim move to ISIS-controlled territory.
Muthana told BuzzFeed she planned her move to Syria in November 2013. She lied to her parents, telling them she had to go to Atlanta for a field trip as part of a class assignment. Instead, she had secretly renewed her passport and was on her way to the Islamic State in Syria, using college tuition money to pay for a plane ticket.
She married an ISIS fighter who was later killed in battle. She later married two other fighters, according to the Guardian; her second husband, the father of her son, was killed in Mosul.
Muthana's father begged her to come back, to which he told BuzzFeed she replied, "I'm not going to come back. This is the right place for me to live and I am really ready to die, to meet my God as a true Muslim."
In the letter provided by her lawyer, Muthana said she had erred.
"When I left to Syria I was a naive, angry and arrogant young woman," she said in the letter. "I thought that I understood my religious beliefs, and I thought I had good friends, I stopped listening to my family and those who care about me and that was a big mistake."
- - -
The Washington Post’s Carol Morello contributed to this report.