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Woman Who Joined ISIS May Not Return To U.S., Trump Says


President Trump says that an American-born woman who joined ISIS cannot return to the United States. Twenty-four-year-old Hoda Muthana left Alabama five years ago to join the Islamic State. She eventually entered Syria and married an ISIS fighter. She's now in a camp in Syria with a young son fathered by one of three ISIS fighters she had married. Joining us on the line is one of Muthana's attorneys, Hassan Shibly.

Good morning, and welcome to the program. Thanks for taking the time for us.

HASSAN SHIBLY: Good morning. I'm actually the family's attorney. I helped report that Hoda had left to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security when she first left. And we have just been assisting the family to make sure that the legal system works itself out and that, ultimately, Hoda is able to be processed through our legal system.

GREENE: So why is it important to point that out? You're saying you're not necessarily representing her.

SHIBLY: Well, there's actually another attorney that is going to be taking on the lead for, you know, criminal defense purposes. I think the major point that I really want to emphasize is, right now, Hoda herself is not just asking to come back home. And people are saying well, she betrayed this country; she shouldn't be able to come back home. At the end of the day - listen. Hoda is - was a 19-year-old, vulnerable young woman who was brainwashed and manipulated by these criminal masterminds.

They took advantage of her and used her. And she deeply, deeply resents them. She deeply regrets it. And she's not just asking to come home with a free pass. She's asking that she can come and face our legal system and pay whatever debt she may have to society and speak out to ensure other people aren't trafficked and brainwashed and abused as she was.

GREENE: Let's just sort that out because you say that she was brainwashed and abused. But I think it's really important for our listeners to know some of the things on her Twitter account, for one thing, while she was abroad in 2015.

I mean, there was a call for followers to look at the White House schedule and take down then-President Barack Obama. There was a call for ISIS supporters in the U.S. to terrorize non-Muslims. There was one tweet focusing on Memorial Day parades and other events that read, in part - Americans, wake up - enough of your sleeping. Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood. How does she explain all that on her Twitter account from then?

SHIBLY: Well, first of all, we don't actually know which of those tweets actually were from her. She lost control over her Twitter account once she actually reached over there. That's the first thing. Second of all, look; it's no secret that Hoda really did go off the deep end. I mean, there was a point where she was calling myself and her parents infidels. You know, she really was fully brainwashed. She was irrational.

And now she tremendously, tremendously regrets it. I think she's awoken from their spell. And again, she's not asking for a free pass. She is willing to pay her debt to society. She wants to face the legal system. And I think this issue now has gone far beyond Hoda, and it's really about due process and birthright citizenship. I think what's very scary is, now, the Trump administration is using this as a test case to revoke an individual's birthright citizenship.

It's very clear she was a citizen when she was born. Her father was no longer a diplomat. And if they're able to strip somebody's citizenship without court process, without due process, that's tremendous executive overreach that I think will eventually bleed over and affect other communities, particularly Latino-American communities that they've been trying to do this for quite some time now.

GREENE: Well, let me just - let's just sort that out because under U.S. law, if her father was a Yemeni diplomat when she was born, she would not have a claim to citizenship. So I guess that's one technicality that's going to be very important to work out as this goes forward. But can I just ask - I mean, the brainwashing - was she brainwashed when she made a decision to go and join ISIS?

SHIBLY: You know, I think we'd be having a very different conversation if this was a young white American girl who was targeted by sex traffickers and ultimately got picked up by them or a young man who ultimately joined a white supremacist hate group, neo-Nazi group. A lot of times - I mean, the tactics are very the same.

I've spoken with Department of Homeland Security officials. And they said, listen; what happened to Hoda is no different than what happens to thousands of youth in this country who get targeted online by sex traffickers, by violent gangs, by hate groups who basically brainwash them by isolating them from their friends, from their family, selling them false hope...

GREENE: Are you saying that she was sex trafficked here? I mean, my understanding was that she made a decision on her own to go travel abroad and go to Syria and join ISIS. Are you saying that there was sex trafficking or somehow she was forced to go?

SHIBLY: I'm saying that, certainly, it was a form of manipulation. I mean, you have this impressionable 20-year-old woman who was very sheltered. She did not have many friends. She was cut off from friends and family. And online, they continued to, you know, manipulate her to get her to the point where she got to Syria. When she got to Syria, it wasn't at all what she expected. The first thing they did was lock her up in a room - with 200 other women - that was locked by chains, guarded by armed guards.

And she was not free to leave unless she picked a name of an individual to marry from a list of random names. So yeah, it really - I think there was a point there where she lost her agency. But listen, we're not here to defend Hoda. As we said, when Hoda decided to go, you know, she's accountable for her actions. I think, you know, she was certainly brainwashed.

But she ultimately was an adult at that time, and I think she should be held accountable for her actions. She wants to be held accountable for her actions. She's not asking for a free pass. She's saying, listen - if I've broken the law, let me come and face our legal justice system. And that's...

GREENE: She's ready to go to prison for what could be decades.

SHIBLY: She's absolutely...

GREENE: I mean, I think of the American Taliban John Walker Lindh. I mean, she could go to prison for a very long time. And she's...

SHIBLY: Exactly. Exactly. That's what she's asking for. She's absolutely willing to face our legal system. She's willing to spend time behind bars. She's willing to pay whatever debt she has to society. And I think that's what's most troubling, is that you have this individual who realized the error of her ways and is simply asking for due process and to face our legal system and possibly spend many years behind bars. And you have the president essentially giving her a free pass by saying - hey, well, she's not a citizen and, therefore, outside of our jurisdiction. And I think that's very ironic.

GREENE: Hassan Shibly is chief executive director at Florida's Council on American-Islamic Relations and an attorney for an Alabama woman, an ISIS defector, who is trying to come back to the United States.

Thank you so much for your time this morning.

SHIBLY: Thank you, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.