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Shamima Begum, 19. (YouTube/Sky News)

‘Brainwashed’

2 women who joined ISIS as teenagers plead to be allowed to return home with their children

February 19, 2019

Two women who travelled to Syria to join ISIS as teenagers have issued desperate pleas that they be allowed to return their respective homes in the U.S. and U.K. But their complicated pasts — and divided loyalties — make it uncertain at best as to whether their home countries will honor their requests.

American Hoda Muthana, 24, expressed contrition for fleeing to Raqqa four years ago as a 19-year-old, where she married three times, had a son, and advocated for domestic terrorism within the U.S. on social media. Shamima Begum, 19, said she doesn’t regret traveling to Syria from the U.K. with two school friends in 2015, but that she wanted to return home for the sake of her newborn child — who was born this past weekend — after losing two children while with ISIS. The two women are currently among 1,500 foreign women and children being held at the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria.

Speaking to The Guardian, Muthana acknowledged that she had once been a fanatical believer in ISIS’s mission — as evidenced by her prolific, and horrific, social media activity. After the death of her first husband, Australian jihadist Suhan Rahman, she called on Americans sympathetic to ISIS to murder innocents back home by using their vehicles as weapons.

“Go on drivebys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them,” she wrote. Similar messages were posted regularly for many months in 2015. But over time, she said, she grew disillusioned with the terrorist state and began to feel as though she and her friends had been “brainwashed.”

“I was really young and ignorant and I was 19 when I decided to leave. I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East. America can take my passport and I wouldn’t mind,” she said.

Begum, by contrast, said she would have happily stayed in Syria if ISIS had managed to retain power, but that she felt broken after losing two children and wanted a place of safety to raise her newborn.

“I was sleeping outside. There was no medical care so I was always getting sick. My kids died because of sickness,” she told Sky News. “I feel a lot of people should have sympathy for me, for everything I’ve been through. You know, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left … I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp forever. It’s not really possible.”

Watch video of Shamima Begum’s interview with Sky News below:

Read The Guardian’s coverage of Muthana and Begum’s stories here and here respectively.

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