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A fully veiled displaced Syrian woman walks at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria. (DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Ruined’

With ISIS in retreat, more Western women who joined them ask to come home

February 20, 2019

As ISIS loses ground in Syria, more stories are emerging of Western women who joined the terror group now begging the governments of their home countries to repatriate them.

This week, The Guardian told the stories of two such women, one from the United States and one from Britain, who said they regretted traveling to Syria as teenagers to fight on behalf of ISIS. Two French women who also joined ISIS told a similar tale, and are asking for permission to return to France — along with an assurance that their children won’t be taken from them if they do.

Now, The New York Times has more details about the American woman, as well as a new story about a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen who burned her passport in Syria but is asking for permission to come home nonetheless.

Hoda Muthana, an American who fled to Raqqa, Syria, four years ago as a 19 year old, and Kimberly Gwen Polman, 46, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, told the Times that since they surrendered themselves to coalition forces last month, they’ve received no response to their efforts to contact American officials through lawyers and The Red Cross.

The women are being held along with 1,500 other foreign women and children at the massive al-Hawl refugee camp in a remote region of Syria. While President Donald Trump has called on allies such as Britain, France, and Germany to repatriate their captured ISIS prisoners, he hasn’t said how the U.S. would resolve the cases of women such as Muthana and Polman, who married ISIS fighters. Only 59 Americans are known to have traveled to Syria to join ISIS, but while almost all of the American men captured in battle have since been returned home, at least 13 American women still remain abroad, according to the Times.

Muthana, who married three times in Syria and gave birth to a son, made a name for herself on social media while with ISIS by calling on Americans to engage in domestic terrorism. She said she traveled to Syria convinced that she was “making a big sacrifice for the sake of God.” But life under the caliphate made her realize that she “didn’t appreciate or maybe even really understand how important the freedoms that we have in America are.”

“Once I look back on it, I can’t stress how much of a crazy idea it was,” she admitted. “I can’t believe it. I ruined my life. I ruined my future.”

Polman, who became friends with Muthana as ISIS’s territory was squeezed into an area of less than six square miles, said that the two of them commiserated over their regrets and quietly conspired to escape. Polman said she had tried to escape once, but was caught and raped by ISIS security agents. In January, the two followed the same route, days apart, to surrender themselves to Western forces.

“I don’t have words for how much regret I have,” said Polman. “How do you go from burning a passport to crying yourself to sleep because you have so much deep regret? How do you do that? How do you show people that?”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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