An American woman and a British teenager who fled to Syria to marry Islamic State group fighters pleaded to be allowed to return home.
Hoda Muthana, 24, left Alabama four years ago for Islamic-State-held territory in Syria. She was found living with her 18-month-old son in the same refugee camp in northern Syria where Shamima Begum, 19, from London, gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend, according to British media reports and Begum's lawyer.
Muthana told The Guardian newspaper that she regrets joining the terrorist group and that she and other recruits did so because they were "ignorant" and "brainwashed."
"I look back now, and I think I was very arrogant," said Muthana, who was married three times in Syria. Her first two husbands died fighting for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Muthana is among about 1,500 foreign women and children inside the al-Hawl refugee camp. Her legal status is not clear, and U.S. immigration authorities were not immediately available to answer questions about her case.
Muthana claimed she has had no contact with U.S authorities.
She is not allowed to leave the camp and has armed guards.
"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," Muthana said.
Begum, who left Britain as a 15-year-old, also wants to be allowed to travel home, but her story has become the subject of intense debate in Britain because she has expressed little remorse for the Islamic State's brutality, including its beheadings, in Syria.
"Yeah, I knew about those things, and I was OK with it. I started becoming religious just before I left. From what I heard, Islamically, that is all allowed, so I was OK with it," Begum told British media. "I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria."
Begum had two other children during her time in Syria, but they both died in infancy from malnutrition and illness. Mohammed Akunjee, Begum's London-based lawyer, said in a statement that Begum's baby, born Sunday, is believed to be in "good health."
She wants to care for her newborn son back in Britain.
Begum's Britain-based family said Begum's new son is a "total innocent," is British and has "every right" to grow up on British soil.
Alex Younger, former head of Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6, argued that Begum can't be prevented from returning home unless she is also a national of another country, which she isn't.
Sajid Javid, Britain's interior minister, indicated he may take steps to block Begum's return. "My message is clear: If you have supported terrorist organizations abroad, I will not hesitate to prevent your return," he said last week.
President Donald Trump – who declared the Islamic State defeated in Syria though military experts disagreed with that assessment – urged European allies to "take back over 800" Islamic State fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.
"The Caliphate is ready to fall," Trump said in a tweet Saturday. "The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them ... The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much - Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!"
About 300 Islamic State fighters are clinging to a tiny area in eastern Syria under siege from U.S.-backed Syrian forces.
Gen. Joseph Votel, in charge of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, testified this month during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that there are 20,000-30,000 Islamic State fighters in Syria. Votel's appraisal is in line with estimates from the United Nations and U.S. Department of Defense.
The number of young Western women who traveled to Syria to participate in Islamic State activities, whether on the battlefield or as spouses, is not known. Estimates vary from about 550 to as many as 1,000. In addition to the USA and Britain, they traveled from France, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and from across North Africa.
"Women and children, even if not complicit in or contributing to what (ISIS) was doing, will require repatriation and resettlement assistance," wrote Daniel Milton and Brian Dodwell, researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the U.S. military academy. "Those who were willing participants in the organization will be of special concern to security services."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American and British ISIS brides Hoda Muthana and Shamima Begum plead to go home