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State Department Says It Will Not Allow Woman Who Supported ISIS To Enter U.S.


As ISIS loses the last of its territory in Syria, some of the Westerners who went there to support the group are now trying to return home. Those Westerners include a woman who says she grew up in Alabama. Hoda Muthana once supported ISIS, but she told ABC News this.


HODA MUTHANA: I hope they excuse me because of how young and ignorant I was, really. And I can tell them that now I've changed. And now I'm a mother. And now I have none of the ideology. And hopefully everyone will see it when I get back.

KELLY: The State Department said today she is not a citizen and will not be let back into the U.S. Meanwhile, there are other Western women and children being held in camps in Syria. NPR's Ruth Sherlock was recently in one of those camps, and she joins me now. Hey, Ruth.


KELLY: Hi. So President Trump has - he's called on other countries - European countries - to bring home captured ISIS fighters and put them on trial. The U.S. could presumably do the same here. Why is the administration saying it will not let Hoda Muthana back into the U.S.?

SHERLOCK: Well, they're saying that she doesn't have a legal basis - a valid passport or a travel visa to the United States. And President Trump has tweeted that he's talked with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and said that she should not be allowed into the country. Now, it's not quite clear what the basis for this is. She and her family say that she's from Alabama.

KELLY: Some confusion, then, over exactly what her passport and citizenship status is.

SHERLOCK: That's exactly right. She says she traveled to Syria four years ago from Alabama to join ISIS. And she got married there to three ISIS fighters and had a son. The New York Times reports that she used social media to call for attacks on Americans. But now she says that she regrets joining ISIS and would like to return back to the United States.

KELLY: Now, this comes as other countries are grappling with what to do with people coming home from the war in Syria. The United Kingdom just revoked the citizenship of a woman who went to Syria. Who is she? What's her story?

SHERLOCK: So she's called Shamima Begum, and she's one of three girls that left when they were teenagers from Britain to Syria in 2015. Begum was just 15 when she went to join ISIS. They're known as the Bethnal Green girls after the parts of London that they came from. So she's now also detained in this camp in Syria. And she said in an interview with the BBC that she hopes Britain will understand that she made a very big mistake. But the British home secretary has stripped her of her citizenship and is claiming that she is a threat to Britain.

KELLY: So for the moment, these women, as we said, are in camps. They are in Syria. Just describe the situation there.

SHERLOCK: It's very difficult. When we went there, it was harsh winter. There weren't enough supplies, not enough tents to go around. Some people were sleeping out in the open because of this. They said that they couldn't get enough cooking pots, even. So you have about 1,800 women - foreign women and children from countries all around the world - 46 countries at least.

Advocates of the families, for these women say, you know, there's a responsibility for countries to take these people back and that they would have to stand trial and face justice in their own countries because they say it could be a national security threat to actually leave them in these camps where they could be radicalized and, you know, left to languish with a very uncertain future.

KELLY: NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting there from Beirut. Thank you, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.