Hoda Muthana who married ISIS fighters, now wants to return home
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the father of Hoda Muthana, the American-born woman who fled Alabama in 2014 to marry an Islamic State fighter in Syria.
Hoda’s father, Ahmed Ali Muthana – a former diplomat at the United Nations for Yemen who is a naturalized U.S. citizen – filed the lawsuit in February seeking to overturn the Trump administration’s determination that Muthana is not an American citizen.
Muthana’s father wants the U.S. to help bring Muthana – now 24 and the mother of a toddler boy – back to the United States. She has expressed remorse for her decisions and said she’s willing to face prosecution and jail time for her affiliation with ISIS, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has labeled her a terrorist.
The legal case turns on factual questions about when Ahmed Ali Muthana’s diplomatic status ended – before or after his daughter was born. But the outcome could have far-reaching implications for Americans all over the world.
“Muthana is not and never has been a U.S. citizen, and her son also is not a U.S. citizen,” Justice Department lawyers argued in Friday’s court filing.
Hoda Muthana was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, in October of 1994, and raised in Hoover, Alabama. A few months before her birth, her father left his post at the U.N., and he and his wife applied for permanent residency in the U.S.
In 2014, Muthana secretly joined the Islamic State after telling her parents she was going to Atlanta as part of a field trip connected with her studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Instead, she withdrew from college and used her tuition reimbursement to travel to Syria.
In Syria, she called for the death of Americans and helped spread ISIS propaganda on social media. But in December of last year, Muthana fled to a refugee camp, as the Islamic State lost control of its territory in Syria and Iraq. She now says she was brainwashed, has expressed remorse and is willing to face the U.S. justice system and serve jail time.
The State Department argues that Muthana never qualified for U.S. citizenship because, at the time of her birth, the U.S. government had not yet been notified that her father was no longer a diplomat. Foreign diplomats are immune from U.S. laws and their children are not granted automatic U.S. citizenship at birth.
The Muthana family has provided documents from the U.N. showing Ahmed Muthana was terminated from his diplomatic job in July 1994, and the U.S. has twice issued Muthana an American passport based on those records.
But in Friday’s brief, the Justice Department notes that the U.S. government didn’t receive official notification of Ahmed Muthana’s his termination until February 6, 1995, months after Hoda Muthana’s birth.
Under the “plain terms of the Vienna Convention, and consistent with the practice of the United States regarding individuals accredited to permanent missions to the United Nations,” Muthana’s diplomatic status ended on Feb. 6, 1995, the government’s brief states.
The government also argued that Ahmed Muthana did not have standing to bring the case on his daughter’s behalf and questioned whether she truly wants to return to the U.S.
“Plaintiff alleges that Muthana wishes to return to the United States and is ready to face the consequences of her actions – including possible criminal prosecution and incarceration,” the brief states. “But Muthana’s own past statements raise questions regarding whether Muthana and (her father) are aligned on this point.”
Those statements include this quote from a 2015 interview Hoda Muthana gave to Buzzfeed News: “It would never cross my mind to come back,” she told the outlet in confessing she had lied to her father to see if he would send her money. “I wanted to see if he’d help me out during troubling times. It was just a test. I knew he wouldn’t send me anything anyway.”
Such “contradictory statements” raise questions about whether her father can pursue the lawsuit in her stead, the government argued.
The Muthana family’s attorney, Charles Swift, said that under the State Department’s argument, ex-foreign diplomats in the U.S. would be free to commit horrific crimes without fear of prosecution as long as their home countries didn’t send official notification of their termination.
“The government’s position is that a diplomat retains immunity until its country tells the U.S. that they’ve been terminated,” Swift, director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, a Texas-based group, said after earlier hearing in the case. “. (So) they’re free to terminate them and then have that individual go out and commit all kinds of criminal acts – such as espionage, sabotage, murder, maiming.”
The Justice Department called that “wildly implausible.” The government’s lawyers noted that the U.S. could quickly terminate a diplomat’s immunity if it had concerns about that person’s mission or activities in the U.S.
The case being handled by Judge Reggie Walton, of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. It’s not clear when he will hold a hearing on the matter, but Swift said earlier this year he expected a decision by summer.
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