- Hoda Muthana, an ISIS bride who was denied a request to return to the United States, is one of hundreds of Americans who have tried to join ISIS since 2011.
- While the majority of the recruits are men, many women have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS or wed ISIS fighters.
- An American woman fighting for ISIS was the first American killed in the Syrian conflict in 2013.
- The whereabouts of some of the women are unknown, and others, including three teens from Colorado, were stopped by police before they could make physical contact with ISIS.
The State Department announced on Wednesday that a US-born woman who left Alabama to join the Islamic State would not be welcomed home. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Hoda Muthana “does not have any legal basis, no valid US passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”
But she’s not the only American woman who has traveled to Syria further the ISIS cause. Muthana is one of hundreds of Americans who have attempted to join the Islamic state and other radical Islamist groups, according to a recent report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Of the 300 attempts, the report names 72 Americans who have successfully traveled to Syria or Iraq and joined ISIS and other jihadist groups since 2011. Just 12% of the travelers have been women.
In recent weeks, several women from across the world who are now living in Syrian refugee camps have identified themselves as ISIS brides, asking to return home to the US, Europe, and Canada.
Audrey Alexander, the author of the GWU Program in Extremism’s report “Cruel Intentions: Female Jihadists in America,” told INSIDER that while many of the women have different motivations for joining extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, many marry ISIS fighters for safety and security while building the Islamic State.
“Once you’re in ISIS-controlled territory, being married brings you security, money, goods, status, and treatment. So there are real incentives to be married while you’re there,” she said, adding that being married is one of many auxiliary roles many women have in the society, like raising children and running social media pages.
“What women want to do there, and what the mission is, is to create an Islamic State,” Alexander said. “And women’s roles in that is to serve in a domestic role in some capacity, but it’s really a broader state building effort, an experiment in so many ways.”
Alexander’s report profiles several women who moved or attempted to move from the US to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of the women moved to the countries with their husbands, while others went alone.
At least one woman has died, two have been sent to jail, one is begging to return to the US, and the whereabouts of others remain unknown.
Here are some women’s stories.
Hoda Muthana left Alabama for ISIS in December 2014, and is now asking to return.
Hoda Muthana was 19 when she left her home in Alabama to join ISIS in Syria in November 2014.
She was radicalized online, according to a 2015 BuzzFeed report, and used a phone given to her by her father to access conservative Islamic lectures online.
Once in Syria, she started a popular Twitter account where she made violent calls to action.
One tweet read: “Go on drive bys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them.”
She has had three ISIS-connected husbands since arriving in Syria, according to The Guardian.
First she married Australian jihadi Suhan Rahman, who was killed in March 2015. She then married a Tunisian ISIS member, who fathered her son before being killed in Mosul. In 2018, she married a Syrian fighter.
Muthana was captured by Kurdish fighters in January 2019 and is now living in the al-Hawl Syrian refugee camp in northeast Syria, which holds about 39,000 people.
She has asked to return to the US, saying she regrets her actions.
The State Department announced on Wednesday that Muthana “will not be admitted into the United States.”
Samantha Elhassani is accused of aiding ISIS while living in Syria with her late husband.
Samantha Elhassani is accused of supporting ISIS fighters and using her son as a trainee while living in Syria with her husband and children.
Elhassani has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS and to aiding and abetting individuals in providing material support to ISIS, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Elhassni married Moroccan-born Moussa Elhassani in July 2012, and together they raised Samantha’s 4-year-old son from a previous relationship and their daughter in Elkhart, Indiana.
In November 2014, Moussa told Elhassani that he and his brother wanted to join ISIS, and the couple “began making financial and logistical preparations for a trip to Syria,” according to court documents seen by The Tribune.
Elhassani stopped sending her son to school, telling his biological father that they were traveling to Paris and his informing his teacher that the boy would be home-schooled.
In 2015, Elhassani, Moussa, Moussa’s brother, and Elhassani’s two children crossed into ISIS-controlled territory in Syria through Turkey.
Videos obtained by the FBI that were taken in Syria show Elhassani’s young son in propaganda videos, and assembling and disassembling rifles and suicide belts.
Elhassani told The Frontline that her husband was killed fighting for ISIS, and she fled the terror group in late 2017.
Shortly after fleeing, Elhassani and her children were taken into custody by Kurdish forces.
In July 2018 she was extradited to the United States and is now in an Indiana jail where she awaits trail. Her children have been placed in foster care.
Elhassani has claimed that her husband coerced her into traveling to Syria and backing ISIS.
Her trial is expected to start in 2020.
Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, became the first American to die in the Syrian conflict in 2013.
- Rodi Said/Reuters
Nicole Lynn Mansfield was a white woman who grew up Baptist in Flint, Michigan.
Mansfield converted Islam shortly after her grandfather died in October 2007, her father told USA Today in 2013. Other family members said Mansfield converted after marrying a Muslim man.
It remains unclear when she started supporting extremest views, but Alexander said many Americans who support jihadist groups are self-taught.
“What the internet tells you sometimes is the most drastic easy to find and accessible thing,” Alexander said. “And we have to think about that kind of information can happen with ideological materials.”
According to Alexander’s report, Mansfield likely traveled to Syria in 2013, prior to the official declaration of the self-proclaimed caliphate.
Family members told USA Today that Mansfield first traveled to Tunisia before going to Syria.
According to Alexander’s GWU report, Mansfield may have assumed a media coordinator role within an Islamist rebel group.
Mansfield was killed in a 2013 firefight in the Syrian city of Idlib.
According to The Guardian, Mansfield died alongside two other fighters and was carrying her driving license and her US passport.
Mansfield is the first American woman thought to be killed in Syrian conflict.
Ariel Bradley traveled from Tennessee in 2014 with her Iraqi-born husband.
- Getty Images/AFP
Ariel Bradley traveled from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to ISIS-controlled territory with her Iraqi-born husband, Yasin Mohamed, in 2014, according to the Female Jihadists in America report.
Bradley was raised evangelical Christian and was home schooled, friends told BuzzFeed News in 2015.
She converted to Islam in 2011, after being rejected as a romantic interest by a Syrian student she worked with at a pizza shop near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, friends told BuzzFeed.
Eventually she started looking online for a Muslim man to marry, and met Mohamed on a Muslim dating site. She flew to Sweden to meet Mohamed, and they married days later.
She moved back to the US to have her first child with Mohamed, and the couple moved to Syria in 2014. They had a second child in 2015.
Friends told BuzzFeed Bradley had confirmed her husband was an ISIS fighter.
Bradley came under fire on social media in July 2015, when she endorsed violent tactics the wake of the Chattanooga shooting that left 6 people, including the shooter, dead.
Her current whereabouts are unknown.
Zakia Nasrin enlisted in ISIS in 2014 with her brother and husband.
- Rodi Said/Reuters
Zakia Nasrin traveled to Syria with her younger brother, Rasel Raihan, and her husband, Jaffrey Khan, in 2014, according to NBC News.
Nasrin’s family had moved from Bangladesh to Ohio in 2000.
In 2010, Nasrin enrolled at the Ohio State University, but decided to move to California to marry Khan, whom family said she met online, instead.
In 2013, Khan and Nasrin moved back to Columbus, and moved into an apartment with Raihan.
In May 2014, the trio started their trip to Syria. In July 2014, the two men entered Syria and Nasrin later followed.
Khan’s father told NBC News that Nasrin ended up working with Khan in a hospital in ISIS-controlled Raqqa, and had a daughter.
Nasrin’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Yusra Ismail traveled to Syria in 2014 after stealing her friend’s passport.
- Photo by Aboud Hamam/picture alliance via Getty Images
Somali-born Yusra Ismail was 19 when she left her home in St. Paul, Minnesota, for Syria in August 2014.
She told her family she was going to a friend’s baby shower, but instead stole a friend’s passport and flew to Amsterdam. From there, she made her way to Syria, according the Department of Justice’s US Attorney’s Office for Minnesota.
Ismail was charged in absentia in December 2014 with misusing a passport.
The charging document said that Ismail called her family days after leaving Minnesota to let them know she was in “Sham” a term used to describe areas in Syria and Iraq where ISIS is attempting to establish its caliphate.
Her exact movements within ISIS are unknown, and it is unclear where Ismail is now. There is no record of her returning to the United States.
An unnamed minor from Chicago tried traveling to the Turkish-Syrian border with her brothers.
In October 2014, authorities intervened at Chicago O’Hare International Airport as Mohammed Hamzah Khan, his younger sister, 17, and brother, 16, were planning to fly to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Authorities interviewed the trio and found that Khan’s sister had “observed, and later took part in” online conversations “debating the value of various jihadist groups,” according to GWU’s Female Jihadists in America report.
As part of a plea agreement in 2015, Khan pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support, namely, personnel, to ISIS.
According to court documents, Khan and his teen sister contacted ISIS members to coordinate travel logistics to Syria.
Rolling Stone reported in 2015 that the teenaged girl knew she would never be allowed to fight for ISIS and understood her role would be “as a wife who would help raise the next generation.”
Three runaway Colorado teens were detained Germany as they traveled to Syria in 2014.
- REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
German authorities detained three runaway teenagers at Frankfurt International Airport as the girls traveled to Turkey en route to Syria.
The group, who went missing from a Denver suburb on October 17, 2014, consisted of two sisters, aged, 15 and 17, and their 16-year-old friend, according to GWU’s report on Female Jihadists in America.
The girls had reportedly told their fathers they were sick, and traveled to the airport while their fathers were at work, CNN reported at the time.
Ali Farah, the father of the sisters, said when he arrived home from work, the girls, their passports, and $2,000 was missing from the home. Their friend’s father, Assad Ibrahim, told Farah that his daughter and her passport were also missing.
The families called authorities, who apprehended the girls in Frankfurt.
Evidence suggests that the girls had been plotting to go to Syria for months and exhibited radicalization on social media.
Officials found more than 9,000 messages between the girls and ISIS fighters, who reportedly told the girls how to travel to Syria safely.
After being detained and returned to the United States, the teens were returned to their families.
They have not been charged with crimes, and at the time, the teens were treated as victims of online predators.
Shannon Conley was sentenced to prison in 2015 for attempting to join ISIS.
Shannon Conley was sentenced to four years in prison in January 2015 for attempting to join IS.
The teen from Colorado was arrested on April 8, 2014, while trying to board a flight to Germany, where she had plans to continue on to Turkey, CNN reported.
Police said Conley had been reported by staff at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, California, after a pastor said Conley was a “terrorist wannabe,” according to KDVR.
Conley told police that she had joined the US Military Explorers to learn military tactics, and “intended to use that training to go overseas to wage Jihad” and “train Islamic Jihadi fighters in US military tactics,” according to GWU’s Female Jihadists in America report.
In the event that she wouldn’t be allowed to fight, Conley intended to use medical training to aid Jihadi fighters, she said.
Conley’s father told investigators that his daughter had met a Tunisian man online who claimed to be an ISIS fighter in Syria, and she had plans to travel there to marry him.
Law enforcement apprehended her as she was trying to board her flight.
- Read more:
- Britain is stripping a teen ISIS bride of her citizenship, and she could end up in a country she says she’s never been to
- ISIS bride from Alabama who urged people to drive pick-up trucks into crowds on Veterans Day wants to come back to the US: ‘Please forgive me’
- The British teen who ran away to join ISIS, but now wants to return to the UK, has given birth in Syria
- The State Department says the ISIS bride begging to return to the US is not a citizen and isn’t coming back