Washington: President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is barring a US-born former Daesh propagandist from returning home, making the highly unusual case that she is not a US citizen.
Trump’s refusal to admit 24-year-old Hoda Muthana comes just as he is pressing Europeans to repatriate their own Daesh fighters and will likely face legal challenges, with US citizenship extremely difficult to lose.
Trump said on Twitter he has “instructed” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the country” — a break with usual US protocol not to comment on individuals’ immigration issues.
In an interview with the Guardian published Sunday, Muthana said she regrets her decision to join Daesh 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 (Daesh) 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 Daesh, 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.
“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a US citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Pompeo said in a terse statement.
“She does not have any legal basis, no valid US passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States,” he added.
The US generally grants citizenship to everyone born on its soil and the Alabama-raised Muthana is believed to have travelled to Syria on a US passport.
But a US official said a later investigation showed that she had not been entitled to her passport, adding: “Ms. Muthana’s citizenship has not been revoked because she was never a citizen.”
Officials declined further comment but in a loophole that could boost the government case, Muthana’s father had been a diplomat from Yemen — and children of diplomats are not automatically given citizenship.
Muthana’s lawyer, Hassan Shilby, showed a birth certificate that demonstrated she was born in New Jersey in 1994 and said her father had ceased being a diplomat “months and months” before her birth.
“She is a US citizen. She had a valid passport. She may have broken the law and, if she has, she’s willing to pay the price,” Shilby said at his office in Tampa.
He said Muthana wanted due process and was willing to go to prison if convicted.
“We cannot get to a point where we simply strip citizenship from those who break the law. That’s not what America is about. We have one of the greatest legal systems in the world, and we have to abide by it.”
US-born and radicalized
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 Daesh 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.
More on Daesh foreign fighters
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 Quran. 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" Daesh 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 Daesh-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 Syria, using college tuition money to pay for a plane ticket.
She married a Daesh 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."
Tough to lose US citizenship
The US decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly travelled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.
Britain asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship due to her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.
US citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.
But Trump has campaigned on a hard line over immigration and raised the prospect of ending birthright citizenship ahead of last year’s congressional elections.
In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes that killed two Americans in Yemen — prominent Al Qaida preacher Anwar Al Awlaki and his 16-year-old son — but did not believe it was possible to revoke citizenship.