“I’m a victim of ISIS”: Hoda Muthana left the US to join ISIS. Now she wants to come home

By Lucy Marley Reporter & Producer ,
Phil Caller Shoot & Editor ,
Hisham Arafat Producer, Syria,
and Tom Gordon-Martin Producer, UK

In her first video interview since losing her appeal to return to the US, Hoda Muthana has said she is “a victim of ISIS”, “will do my time” in prison and “wants to go home.”

“I want to go home and see my family”
This is Hoda’s story - and it’s complicated
When Hoda was 20 she left the US to travel to join ISIS in Syria. 
Since then she’s become a mother, left the group and is now held in a prison camp in north east Syria.
And the US government has said she’ll never be able to return home.  

What is ISIS?
ISIS is a violent, militant Islamic group that supports a very strict version of Islam.
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Credit: ISIS propaganda

Governments describe the group as terrorists. 
In Syria alone, ISIS has been involved in a war lasting 10 years. The UN says the conflict has killed more than 300,000 civilians.
And says the real total could be higher.
 ISIS has been condemned for many brutal deaths and murders.

Camp Roj
We travelled to northern Syria to meet Hoda and many other women who left their home countries to go and join ISIS.
Many say they should have never joined an organisation that murders people. 
But lawyers of some of these young women said they were groomed online and trafficked over to Syria. 
We travelled to Camp Roj, where thousands of women and children, many with suspected links to ISIS, are held. 
The camps have been described as a “ticking time bomb” and the Kurdish authorities have warned they’ll not be able to hold the detainees forever. 
This is where I met Hoda and spent four days getting to know her.
She lives in a tent with her young son. They’re given food in rations and Hoda describes life in the camp as “the same day on repeat, except your child is growing.” 
When I first met Hoda she ended up inviting me inside her tent. 
She politely asked me to wait outside whilst she cleaned up - but inside I find she’s reading the same books as me and has the news on her tiny television. 

“I as well am a victim of ISIS”
Hoda claims she was groomed online and trafficked to Syria by ISIS members.
Human trafficking is when people are recruited or moved by threat, force or the abuse of being vulnerable.
And Hoda explains how ISIS members in their early 20s would have “normal conversations” with her online and claims they wanted to “attract younger, vulnerable women”.
Hoda says at the time ISIS members were talking to her, she needed a reason to leave abuse she faced in the US. 

Similarities to Shamima Begum
Hoda’s case has been compared to that of Shamima Begum, a young British woman who left the UK as a teenager. 
Both joined ISIS. 
And both have been told they can’t return home. 
Shamima left her home in London when she was just 15. She left the UK, flew to Turkey and crossed into Syria to join ISIS.  
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Similarly to Hoda, her lawyers argue that she was trafficked and sexually exploited. 
The UK government argues Shamima is a security risk and has stripped her of her citizenship - meaning she can’t return to the UK or hold a British passport. 
Shamima’s lawyers are fighting against her citizenship ban. And she’s currently waiting to hear the result from her latest appeal.
The two young women seem like good friends and live opposite each other in the camp.
And unless anything changes, both Hoda and Shamima are stuck in stateless limbo.

Guest house for women: “We weren’t allowed to leave unless we got married”
When Hoda first arrived in Syria, she says she was taken straight to a place called a “woman’s guest house.”  
Hoda says: “it’s like a system that makes you almost go crazy to force yourself to get married, ‘cos that’s the only way out.”  

Tweets: “They would take my phone”
If you search Hoda Muthana online, you’ll probably find reports of her social media accounts and tweets from her account calling for attacks against Americans. 
Hoda claims these tweets weren’t from her. And ISIS members would post tweets from her account. 
She also claims those ISIS members would regularly check her phone and look through her messages.

Taking off her headscarf: “It’s the first time I got to make the choice”
When Hoda left ISIS, she arrived in Roj camp - one of the main detention camps in North East Syria.
The camp is run by the Syrian Democratic Forces. They control this part of Syria and helped defeat ISIS. 
Around a year later, she took her headscarf off. 

Breaking away from ISIS
Since leaving ISIS she’s been able to break from their strict rules by listening to her favourite music.

Going home: “One of the worst feelings was being told I wasn’t an American citizen"
In 2019, a federal judge in the US ruled Hoda was never an American citizen. 
It gets complicated but the US government ruled because of Hoda’s father’s work as a Yemeni diplomat, Hoda did not have “birthright” citizenship and disputes if she ever was a citizen.
Hoda says “she didn’t think it was possible”
In January 2022, her father appealed against her ban on entering the US. 
But the Supreme Court - the top court in the US - declined to hear the case.
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Hoda Muthana: I’ll go to prison and do my time