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News Brief: Trump Says Woman Who Joined ISIS Can't Return To The U.S.


We begin with the story of a 24-year-old woman who fled America to join ISIS. She is pleading with the U.S. government to allow her to return home.


Her name is Hoda Muthana, and she was a student at the University of Alabama when she decided in 2014 to just leave her life behind and travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. She eventually fled the caliphate and is now living in a Kurdish refugee camp. Her family's lawyer spoke to NPR this week.


HASSAN SHIBLY: She is disgusted by the person she was. She deeply, deeply regrets it.

MARTIN: But the Trump administration says she is not a citizen and will not be allowed to come back to the United States.

GREENE: So what's going to happen next here? Let's turn to NPR's Ruth Sherlock, who has been following this story from Beirut. Good morning, Ruth.


GREENE: So how did Hoda Muthana end up in Syria in the first place? And what happened to her? What was she doing during her time with ISIS?

SHERLOCK: Well, so she was a student in Alabama, as far as we know. But then she duped her parents into thinking that she was going on a college trip, but then, you know - every parent's nightmare - bought a plane ticket with the tuition money to Turkey. And from there, she crossed into Syria to join ISIS.

It does seem that, for a while, she was convinced about ISIS' mission. The New York Times reports that she posted - she used a pseudonym to post messages on Twitter that actually called for attacks on Americans. But then, she says, she saw a lot of the violence of ISIS firsthand. Here she is talking to ABC News.


HODA MUTHANA: We would see dead bodies in public. We would see kids seeing dead bodies in public. We'd see limbs splattered on the floor.

SHERLOCK: She also says that all this made her wake up and change. She says she regrets going. She has a child now, and she wants to return to the U.S.

GREENE: Well, and return to the United States not, like, to be free. I mean, her lawyer says she wants to repay her debt to society. She's ready to serve time in prison if she has to. So talk about what the Trump administration is arguing here, in terms of refusing to let her back here.

SHERLOCK: So they're saying that she isn't a U.S. citizen. They say they've got - that she has no legal basis to be in the U.S. - no valid passport or right to a passport, nor a travel visa. And President Trump tweeted his support for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision.

Muthana's lawyer, however, says that he has evidence that she is an American citizen. So she's got - he's got a birth certificate showing she was born in the U.S. and that she did have a valid passport that she used to travel to Syria.

One possible reason is that the State Department may be saying her father was a Yemeni diplomat, so he - the family would've been under Yemeni jurisdiction, except the lawyer says the father gave up the diplomat's job before she was born. So it all remains to be seen, really.

GREENE: There's a lot of technicalities - a lot of technicalities, maybe, to work through. Isn't this exactly what the Trump administration has been urging European countries to do, though - to bring home people who joined ISIS?

SHERLOCK: Yeah. He's urged all countries to take back their citizens. I mean, here, I guess, the technicality, again, is that the administration is arguing that she isn't a citizen.

GREENE: I mean, there are hundreds of ISIS fighters, as well as women and children, who are being detained by coalition forces still today. I mean, are a lot of them in the same kind of legal limbo as this woman?

SHERLOCK: Yeah. We believe that there's at least 1,800 foreign women and children in these camps from 46 countries. And many of them - many of them, especially from Europe, are in this legal limbo, with many countries saying, we don't want these people back.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Thanks a lot, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.


GREENE: The allegations against a Coast Guard lieutenant who's been arrested by the FBI in Washington, D.C. - I mean, they are chilling.

MARTIN: Right. So according to court documents, the suspect is a self-described white nationalist. And he's stockpiled weapons and wrote that he wanted to kill as many people as possible. He allegedly had this list of potential targets that included Democratic political leaders, like Nancy Pelosi, as well as political activists and organizations and media personalities - news anchors.

GREENE: And we have NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre here to talk to us about this. Greg, who is this suspect?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: He is Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Paul Hasson, and he worked at the Coast Guard headquarters here in Washington for the past three years - was an office guy, was a scheduler, mostly.

Now, he - in some of his writings, he talks about being a skinhead for the past 30 years. And he served - had a long military career. He served in the Marines and the Army National Guard previously, dating back to the '80s and '90s.

Written a lot about being a white nationalist, expressed neo-Nazi views. And the prosecutors are calling him a domestic terrorist. In the very first line of the court filing about him, they write, the defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, that's just terrifying, based on what it sounds like he was planning. So what led authorities to uncover his plot?

MYRE: It seems the Coast Guard started investigating. We're not exactly clear what set them off, but they began this. And then the FBI came in and arrested Hasson in the Coast Guard parking lot last Friday. They went into his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Md. They found 15 firearms - pistols, rifles, semi-automatic weapons - more than a thousand rounds of ammo. He also had steroids. He apparently thought this would help him - make him stronger for an attack. And he'd apparently been amassing these weapons for about the past two years or so.

GREENE: And so how much detail are the authorities getting in terms of who he might've been targeting and what exactly he was planning to do here?

MYRE: So apparently, stuff he had been writing on his computer gave quite a bit of detail since he was drafting letters or emails, and it was not clear that he was sending them anywhere beyond to himself. But he talked about the liberal globalist ideology destroying the world, and especially white people.

And he has this spreadsheet that's been released by the authorities, and it has the names - often just one name, but it seems pretty clear who he's talking about - Democratic leaders, like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and others, and then cable TV news hosts from CNN and MSNBC - Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, Chris Hayes, Ari Melber. The common thread seems to be that they were all very, very critical of President Trump.

GREENE: I mean, this has got to shock other people who work at the Coast Guard. You've been talking to some of them?

MYRE: I did. I was able to get in touch with one of his co-workers, a guy named Adam Stolzberg (ph), who'd been working there with him for about the past six months. Now, he said he seemed pretty normal, calm - nothing really strange or outlandish. He said he had a lot of tattoos. He drove a Harley-Davidson to work.

They knew he had been arrested last Friday, but they were sort of talking among themselves, not quite sure what the charges were. And then it was a real bombshell, they said, when they heard about it through the news media reports that started breaking yesterday.

GREENE: All right. And he's going to be appearing in court in Maryland today. Is that right?

MYRE: That's right - first appearance. And the prosecutors want to keep him held without bail.

GREENE: NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.

MYRE: Thanks, David.


GREENE: All right, the investigation into the alleged attack on the actor Jussie Smollett has taken yet another crazy turn.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT: I still want to believe, with everything that has happened, that there's something called justice.

MARTIN: That was the "Empire" star talking on "Good Morning America" last week. He was addressing doubts about his claim that two men in masks attacked him and used homophobic and racist slurs. Yesterday, though, Smollett went from victim to suspect. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. Chicago police are negotiating what they call a reasonable surrender for Smollett's arrest, and there's a bond hearing today.

GREENE: All right. Miles Bryan is a reporter with NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago and has been covering this. Hi, Miles.


GREENE: So do we know what evidence or what information police got that led them to file this charge against Jussie Smollett?

BRYAN: You know, just to be careful, we don't know exactly what information they've received recently that led them to this charge. I think we can expect the prosecutors to lay out their case at bond court this afternoon.

But we do know that two brothers, who, last week, were arrested and questioned in the case and were considered suspects, testified for a couple hours in front of a grand jury yesterday. And that was the immediate precursor to these charges coming down. So that's the latest we have from that.

GREENE: OK, so the two guys who were accused - I mean, they spent time with investigators. And whatever they said may have led to them saying that what Jussie Smollett filed, in terms of a police report, just wasn't true.

What is Jussie Smollett's legal team saying now? I mean, they sort of addressed this question being out there as to whether he might have made this up earlier. Now that this charge has been filed, what are they saying?

BRYAN: You know, I reached his legal team late last night. I got a statement from them. And they are standing strong, it seems. They said that they plan to mount a vigorous defense. They also said they plan to run their own investigation of the case. And they specifically pointed out - they criticized leaks in the case - that there's been lots of unconfirmed reporting from anonymous sources within the Chicago Police Department, among others, that has sort of driven the momentum of this story. But they seem to be standing defiant in their position.

GREENE: And just describe to me exactly what the charge is. This is a felony. It's a felony to file a false police report - a felony charge.

BRYAN: Yeah. So it's a felony disorderly conduct charge. So it's a little strange, but it is, essentially, making this filing - allegedly filing a false police report - a felony. And, you know, that carries one to three years in prison, potentially, although it could be probationable (ph), and various fines. So it's a serious charge.

GREENE: This is just a crazy story, in part because we're dealing with, I mean, a really popular television star on a popular program. What's it been like covering this case?

BRYAN: You know, it is just wild. Every couple of hours, it changes. And it's been difficult for us to be careful about separating what we know and what's being - you know, what's just speculation. So just trying to be careful with the facts here.

GREENE: All right. That is Miles Bryan, who is a reporter for NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago, talking to us about the latest turn in the case of Jussie Smollett, who has now been charged with a felony for allegedly filing a false police report. Miles, thanks for following all this.

BRYAN: Thank you.


David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.