A research group that monitors jihadi social media has assembled a detailed dossier on Hoda Muthana, the former Alabama resident who embraced mass killings as a three-time Islamic State bride in Syria but now wants to return to America.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) tracked and recorded Ms. Muthana’s Twitter and Instagram war cries over four years. She expressed hatred for the U.S. and the world in general, urged American Muslims to “rent a big truck and drive all over them” at veterans parades and labeled American service members “cowards.”
Five years after entering the so-called caliphate as a teenager, a disenchanted Ms. Muthana, amid the shambles of a mostly defeated terrorist army, sits in a Kurdish refugee camp with a young son.
President Trump said he ordered immigration officials not to let her into the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a blunt statement: Ms. Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and has no valid passport.
Her fate promises to be a running news story. Her father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, a former Yemeni diplomat at the United Nations and an Alabama resident, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Feb. 21. He wants a judge to declare Ms. Muthana a U.S. citizen and order her return.
Judge Reggie B. Walton has set a hearing for Monday. Ms. Muthana’s attorneys want an immediate ruling because most U.S. troops are leaving Syria. They say the U.S. may not be able to facilitate her release from allied Kurdish forces who run her refugee center, Camp al-Hawl.
A family attorney, Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), retweeted a Baltimore Sun column that compared Ms. Muthana’s return to the forgiveness of Confederate soldiers in 1865.
The Muthana dossier was prepared by MEMRI’s group of U.S.-based researchers, analysts and translators who watch Twitter, Instagram and other social networks, as well as extremist media channels on such apps as Telegram.
MEMRI has been tracking Ms. Muthana, 24, since she emerged in 2015 as a prominent Islamic State social media cheerleader, joining thousands of imported extremists who committed widespread atrocities in Syria and Iraq.
“The most troubling aspect of her time in Syria was her becoming a high-profile advocate for ISIS, tweeting regularly from Syria in late 2014 and 2015, urging Americans to come join the jihad and to ‘wake up u cowards,’” MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky told The Washington Times.
“Many U.S. media outlets have published sympathetic images of her with her child” since she issued her public repatriation request, Mr. Stalinsky said.
Some news stories’ first paragraphs describe her as an “Alabama mother.”
The nonprofit Terrorism Research Initiative reported in 2015, the same year Ms. Muthana became active on social media, that 555 women from Western countries had come to Syria and Iraq to live the Islamic State’s caliphate lifestyle. They looked for both love and war.
“No extremist group has been able to attract so many female Western recruits so far and their numbers continue to grow,” the Terrorism Research Initiative article said. “For many teenage girls, participation in jihad seems very romantic, as well as being married to ‘holy warriors’ and living in the idyllic ‘Muslim Disneyland.’”
Ms. Muthana now describes herself as having been brainwashed by the same type of online Islamic State propaganda she later spewed as a jihadi. She disenrolled from the University of Alabama in 2104 and used her rebated tuition to fund her journey, via Turkey, to the Islamic State’s promised land.
The MEMRI report said she quickly married Suhan Rhaman, an Australian, and took the online name Umm (a common Islamic female alias) Jihad.
Rhaman was killed a few months later. Her second husband was a Tunisian who ended up getting killed in Islamic State-occupied Mosul. They had a son, Adam. Ms. Muthana then married a Syrian.
A small group of like-minded female jihadis formed the Al-Khansaa Brigade. Their war effort revolved around posing in photos wielding AK-47s and issuing threats to the West.
As Umm Jihad, Ms. Muthana became a prolific tweeter, expressly calling for mass killings of Americans, according to MEMRI. She began posting on Instagram in 2017 as “Muth1438.”
Ideology ‘stronger than ever online’
Some examples of Ms. Muthana’s posts:
• “There are sooo many Aussies and Brits here but where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”
• “Terrorize the kuffar [a slur of non-Muslims] at home.”
• “Men and women altogether. You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades Kill them.”
• “The whole world doesn’t seem to understand that simple equation. The fact that we don’t love, or even like this world or anything in it. And we are hastening to the Next. We’ve given up everything to live in harsh conditions for Allah’s sake, why? Simply because it’s the only place we as Muslims are allowed to live in. Syria is ugly I’m not going to lie. But we are here only for Allah and we pray for patience and perseverance and we are willing to give everything even our lives for His sake.”
• “We have men (and women!) who love death as ardently as you love your lives! I was watching an American documentary on a battle in Afghanistan and the Americans are such cowards. Crying and shaking on the battlefield and saying, ‘our aim is to get everyone home where they belong.’ While our men’s aim on the battlefield is to reunite with our Lord. Our honor is in jihad, either victory or shahadah [martyrdom]. These men cry for their lives while we cry for our death (shahadah)!”
• A brigade member and Ms. Muthana’s close friend, Umm Abdullatif, tweeted: “Our husbands die in frontlines but that doesn’t stop women in the west from sending their husbands to kill kuffar Kill kuffar in alleyways, stab them and poison them. Poison your teachers. Go to haram [banned by Islamic law] restaurants and poison the food in large quantities.”
Mr. Stalinsky said MEMRI operates a Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor project that works with counterterrorism government units in the U.S. and other Western nations.
“While ISIS’ physical caliphate has crumbled, it and its ideology are stronger than ever online,” Mr. Stalinsky said. “Hoda Muthana is not alone. There are hundreds of jihadis like her in the U.S., and thousands across the West, who have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Their use of social media has provided us with information about their true intentions. It would be a tragic mistake to think that they do not mean what they say.”
In a handwritten note obtained by CNN, she regretted everything.
“When I left to Syria I was a naive, angry, and arrogant young woman. I thought that I understood my religious beliefs,” she said. “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. Seeing how different a society could be compared to the beloved America I was born and raised into changed me. 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.”
She told NBC News: “I am a citizen, and those papers prove it, as I’m just as American as any blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, and I would like to stay in my country and do American things.”
In announcing the lawsuit, the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America argues that Ms. Muthana is a U.S. citizen and obtained valid passports in 2005 and 2014. It has produced a copy of her New Jersey birth certificate.
“Should the court agree with the plaintiff, Ms. Muthana’s son will be recognized as an American citizen and afforded the opportunity to grow up in the greatest country in the world,” the Texas-based law center said. The statement said she recognizes that “success in this lawsuit will likely result in Ms. Muthana’s prosecution on allegations of material support for terrorism for her actions while in Syria.”
The law carries a penalty on a one-count conviction of up to 15 years in prison. If a death is the result of material support, then the sentence could be up to life imprisonment.
The State Department in 2016, while Ms. Muthana was in Syria as a jihadi, sent a letter to her home address in Alabama saying her passport issued in 2014 had been revoked. It said revocations are based on passports being obtained “illegally, fraudulently or erroneously.”
She was born on Oct. 28, 1994. The State Department said her father remained on diplomatic status until 1995, meaning she didn’t gain automatic citizenship and is not a citizen today.
But her attorney, Charles D. Swift, argues that Mr. Muthana, a naturalized U.S. citizen, left diplomatic service before his daughter’s birth. He said that since Ms. Muthana now resides in coalition-controlled territory, the U.S. has a legal obligation to bring her stateside.
“You are also reminded that Ms. Muthana is represented by counsel and should not be interrogated regarding any aspects of her travel to Syria,” Mr. Swift said in a Jan. 15 letter to the U.S. attorney in Alabama.
On Monday, the Justice Department filed its first response to the Muthana lawsuit.
“The court cannot grant any relief for Hoda Muthana because Plaintiff’s claims on her behalf are meritless,” the brief said. “Those claims are profoundly flawed because Muthana is not and has never been a U.S. citizen, and her son likewise is not a U.S. citizen. Settled law applied to the relevant events clearly demonstrates that Plaintiff enjoyed diplomatic-agent-level-immunity until February 6, 1995 — after Muthana’s birth. Thus, Muthana was not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States when she was born, by virtue of her parents’ enjoyment of diplomatic-agent-level immunity. So she did not and could not have acquired U.S. citizenship at birth.”