American-born ISIS bride says it was 'hell on earth'

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I was expecting a happy place – it was hell on earth.’ American-born ISIS bride tells how her son was made to eat grass for dinner and the morality police punished her for showing her pink Nikes under her burka in new documentary

  • Hoda Muthana joined ISIS in 2014 after embracing extremist ideology while living with her family in Alabama 
  • She was born in Hackensack, New Jersey but her father was a diplomat which  means she is not an American citizen and cannot return
  • Muthana is one of the stars of a 90-minute documentary The Return: Life After ISIS, which premiered this week at the South by Southwest film festival 
  • Muthana now says that ISIS was not an Islamic group but a ‘cult that wanted to use Islam to gain more power and more people and more money’ 
  • Speaking about why she got recruited to join ISIS, Muthana says in the film that she ‘wanted to feel useful’ and blamed ‘manipulative propaganda’ 
  • She said that she had a ‘meltdown’ when Donald Trump tweeted that he had effectively banned her from returning to the country she considers home
  • Muthana, 25, said that the tough language left her feeling that ‘I didn’t know what would happen to me’ 

An American-born ISIS bride has admitted that when Donald Trump tweeted she should never be allowed back into the US she ‘lost all hope’.

Hoda Muthana said that she had a ‘meltdown’ when the former President said he had effectively banned her from returning to the country she considers home.

Muthana, 25, said that the tough language left her feeling that ‘I didn’t know what would happen to me.’

She is currently living in the Roj refugee camp in Northern Syria with her two-year-old son after a federal judge ruled that because her father was a diplomat when she was born in Hackensack, New Jersey she is not an American citizen and so cannot return.

Muthana is one of the stars of a 90-minute documentary The Return: Life After ISIS, which premiered this week at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. 

Hoda Muthana, 25, joined ISIS in 2014 after embracing extremist ideology while living with her family in Alabama. Muthana is one of the stars of a 90-minute documentary The Return: Life After ISIS, which premiered this week at the South by Southwest film festival

She is currently living in the Roj refugee camp in Northern Syria with her two-year-old son after a federal judge ruled that because her father was a diplomat when she was born in Hackensack, New Jersey she is not an American citizen and so cannot return

Muthana fled her home in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, in late 2014 and went to Syria where she used social media to advocate violence against the United States.

She married three ISIS fighters, all of whom died in combat.

Muthana now says that ISIS was not an Islamic group but a ‘cult that wanted to use Islam to gain more power and more people and more money’

According to the Counter Extremism Project she took part in ISIS propaganda and urged jihadists in America to ‘go on drive-bys, and spill all of their blood.’

Muthana also hailed an attack in 2015 in France against the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead.

In the documentary Muthana addressed the February 2019 Tweet by Trump which said: ‘I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!’

Pompeo said in an interview at the time that Muthana ‘does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.’

In the film Muthana says: ‘When the Tweet from Trump came out I lost all hope. I had a big meltdown. I didn’t know what would happen to me.’

Muthana now says that ISIS was not an Islamic group but a ‘cult that wanted to use Islam to gain more power and more people and more money.’

She says: ‘This was complete corruption and ruined many people’s lives.’

Muthana says that looking back she ‘couldn’t tell which was harder on us, the bombings or the starvations’.

The final straw for her was one day in the Syrian city of Shahba when her son had to eat grass for dinner.

She said: ‘I dropped everything and left. I walked out, I just walked despite there being (explosive devices) and not being the way out.

‘I walked out with the Syrians just to save my child and me from the starvations and the bombings and this horrible way. I really regret it for the rest of my life and wish I could erase.’

In the documentary Muthana addressed the February 2019 Tweet by Trump which said: ‘I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!’

Last November Federal Judge Reggie Walton ruled that Muthana was not an American citizen because her Yemeni father was First Secretary with the Yemeni Mission to the United Nations.

Under longstanding federal regulation, the children of diplomats are not eligible for citizenship when they are born in America, because they are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

However there is some confusion over the dates that Muthana’s father was in his post, meaning she may have qualified to be American as her lawyers have argued.

Hoda’s first husband was Australian extremist Suhan Abdul Rahman who was killed in battle in Syria

Speaking about why she got recruited to join ISIS, Muthana says in the film that she ‘wanted to feel useful.’

She says that the ISIS propaganda was ‘really manipulating’ and like many women in her position she had taken a recent interest in her religion so the films were ‘perfect timing’ for them.

She says: ‘I felt like I was useless my whole life. And every website I visited had a Syrian advertised mix that the Syrians need help and the Syrians are starving and the Syrians are going through trouble. So I got really sucked into that and I felt really bad as Muslims leaving them behind.

‘I had what was called at the time, a Muslim Twittersphere. I suddenly became really upset. Me and my mom didn’t have such a good relationship. And I thought I can improve it by being more religious because she’s very religious. And I learned all of this on my own online. When you are brainwashed, you don’t realize it and so you snap out of it.’

She hoped that the Islamic State would be a ‘happy place with Muslims helping’ each other but what she encountered was ‘like the Middle Ages’.

The ISIS morality police roamed the streets barking at people and one time she was ticked off because her pink Nikes were on show beneath her burka.

She was not allowed to mix with anyone and her only entertainment was sitting watching her husband play video games which were banned but he kept them as a ‘guilty pleasure.’

Muthana says: ‘It was hell on Earth, really.’

She became so fed up that she paid a smuggler to take her away from the terrorist group but he drove her and a truck full of women back to some ISIS soldiers.

Muthana managed to slip away with her son while the rest of the women were taken away – to this day she doesn’t know where.

What turned her against ISIS was seeing them take Yazidi Christians as sex slaves.

Muthana said: ‘They were being bought and sold and I heard very horrible stories of how they were being passed around to other men. This to me was one of the biggest corruptions in ISIS.

‘Every scholar knows this is not Islamic at all.’

During a lighter moment Muthana is asked by another Western ISIS bride what she would do first if she got back to America.

She jokes: ‘Put me in a room with 10 burgers! Melted cheese and chili on top…I missed food so much.’

Reflecting on her early life, she claims that she was made to wear a hijab age 11 ‘by force’ and didn’t want to.

She was ‘painfully shy’ in her youth and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, not even to the mall.

She says: ‘All I had waiting for me in the future was an arranged marriage the exact way my parents wanted to do so. I had no time to dream about anything.’

The film features Kimberly Polman, a Canadian-US citizen in her late 40s who left behind three adult children in Canada to join ISIS in 2015

Speaking about why she got recruited to join ISIS, Muthana says in the film that she ‘wanted to feel useful’ and blamed ‘manipulative propaganda.’ A general view shows destroyed buildings in Raqqa city, northeastern Syria

The film also features Kimberly Polman, a Canadian-US citizen in her late 40s who left behind three adult children in Canada to join ISIS in 2015.

The Canadian government is refusing to give her consular assistance and she complains about it in the film

Polman says: ‘I shouldn’t be here at all. I should be going home and not even being here. I mean, I never even had a parking ticket back in my own country before. Why am I denied my children? Why am I denied those things when I never harmed anybody? I never killed anybody. I never did anything’.

Polman recounts how she was recruited online after her grown up children moved out of her home and she ‘wasn’t ready’ for an empty nest.

Polman, who was born into a Reformed Mennonite community in Hamilton, Ontario, married her ISIS husband on the Internet and he told her to come to a place where she was ‘actually loved’.

The reality that met her was horrific and she described working in a hospital where blood was flowing on the floor so deep she was ‘wading through it, like a river’.

She said: ‘I can’t tell you what that smells like or it feels like on your skin when your clothes are so wet’.

Polman said that her time with ISIS has taught her ‘how manipulative and evil people can be and how many lives they can destroy’.

She said: ‘You can only go forward but that doesn’t stop me from regretting’.

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