VOA NEWS/Ken Bredemeier
WASHINGTON — The father of an American-born woman who defected to the Islamic State terrorist group filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Trump administration because he wants his daughter to be allowed to return to the United States.
The Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA) filed the complaint on behalf of Ahmed Ali Muthana, the father of Hoda Muthana and grandfather of her young son.
CLCMA said in a statement that the suit is “seeking declaratory relief recognizing (Hoda Muthana’s) citizenship, and injunctive relief requiring the United States to make good faith efforts to return her and her young son to the United States.”
The civil suit was filed, the statement said, “not to defend her from criminal prosecution, but instead seeking recognition of her United States citizenship, which prior to her departure was not in dispute and the citizenship of her young son.”
Pompeo: She’s not a citizen
Earlier Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contended that the woman is not a U.S. citizen and should not be allowed to return home from Syria because her father was a Yemeni diplomat.
President Donald Trump said he ordered Pompeo to not let Muthana return to the U.S., even though her lawyer says she is willing to face U.S. prosecution that she willingly went to Syria and used social media to praise the killings of Westerners.
“She may have been born here,” Pompeo told NBC’s “Today” show. “She is not a U.S. citizen, nor is she entitled to U.S. citizenship.”
He contended that the 24-year-old woman, now with a child born in a relationship with one of her three jihadist husbands, is not an American citizen because of her father’s diplomatic status.
Father not a diplomat
But Muthana’s lawyer told U.S. news outlets that the father had ended his diplomatic service “months and months” before his daughter was born in the eastern U.S. state of New Jersey in 1994, thus making her an American citizen.
The lawyer, Hassan Shibly, told CNN that Muthana “should have known better” than to leave her home in the southern state of Alabama in 2014 without her parents’ knowledge to head to Syria to embrace Islamic State.
Shibly said she immediately was locked up with 200 other women and told she would not be released unless she married one of the IS fighters.
Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women appearing to burn their Western passports, including an American one.
Now, however, with territory held by IS dwindling fast, Muthana has renounced extremism and wants to return home to confront any criminal charges that could be lodged against her.
“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family, and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a handwritten note to her lawyer.
Shibly said, “She wants to face our legal system.”
Standing in the way is Trump.
Right of citizenship
The CLCMA statement said, “Citizenship is a core right under the Constitution, and once recognized should not be able to be unilaterally revoked by tweet — no matter how egregious the intervening conduct may be.”
The U.S. normally grants citizenship to anyone that is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, which would exclude the children of diplomats such as Muthana, if indeed Muthana’s father was a diplomat at the time of her birth.
Muthana’s lawyer said, “We cannot get to a point where we simply strip citizenship from those who break the law. That’s not what America is about. We have one of the greatest legal systems in the world, and we have to abide by it.”
Trump has attacked European allies that have not taken back hundreds of IS prisoners caught in Syria, where Trump plans to withdraw U.S. troops. By comparison, relatively few Americans have embraced radical Islam. The Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University has identified 64 Americans who joined IS in Syria or Iraq.
Europe is debating the nationality of some extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who like Muthana traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.
London asserted that because of her heritage she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, but the Dhaka government Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leaving her effectively stateless.