Charles Swift, attorney for Hoda Muthana, an American-born woman who joined the Islamic State group in Syria, speaks to reporters after a hearing in her court case seeking to allow her return to the United States (SAUL LOEB)
Washington (AFP) – A US judge on Monday rejected a request for expedited treatment of the case of an Alabama woman who joined the Islamic State group in Syria and is seeking to return to the United States.
The Trump administration has declared that Hoda Muthana, 24, is not an American citizen and has barred her from coming home.
Ahmed Ali Muthana, Muthana’s father, filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to affirm that his daughter has US nationality and to let her return along with her toddler son, whose father was a Tunisian jihadist killed in battle.
Judge Reggie Walton sided with the government and denied a request for expedited consideration of Muthana’s case.
Walton said there was no proof there would be “irreparable harm” if her case is handled in a normal — rather than an expedited — fashion.
Arguing in court on Muthana’s behalf, attorney Charles Swift said the normal process could take months and “conditions are not secure and safe in the refugee camp” where the young woman is currently being held by US-allied Kurdish fighters.
“She could be recaptured, killed or lose the ability to come back,” Swift told the court.
Scott Stewart, a Justice Department lawyer, countered that there is “no indication she’s facing any immediate harm.”
“The situation of Hoda Muthana is a result of her leaving the US and joining a terrorist organization in Syria,” Stewart said.
Swift expressed disappointment with the judge’s ruling but said he was hopeful that the court would eventually find that Muthana “is in fact a US citizen.”
Muthana has said that she regrets joining the Islamic State group and is willing to face prosecution in the United States over her incendiary propaganda on behalf of the extremists.
– Legal battle –
It is extremely difficult for the United States to strip a person of citizenship, a step taken by Britain in the case of homegrown jihadists.
The brewing legal battle hinges on a murky timeline of bureaucratic paperwork in 1994 when Muthana was born and her father left a position at Yemen’s mission to the United Nations.
The US Constitution grants citizenship to everyone born in the country — with the exception of children of diplomats, as they are not under US jurisdiction.
In the lawsuit, Ahmed Ali Muthana said he was asked by Yemen to surrender his diplomatic identity card on June 2, 1994 as the Arab country descended into one of its civil wars.
Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey on October 28 of that year and the family later settled in Hoover, Alabama, a prosperous suburb of Birmingham.
The State Department initially questioned Hoda Muthana’s right to citizenship when her father sought a passport for her as a child because US records showed he had been a diplomat until February 1995, the lawsuit said.
But it said the State Department accepted a letter from the US mission to the United Nations that affirmed that he had ended his position before his daughter’s birth and granted her a passport.
Muthana went to Syria in 2014 when IS was carrying out a grisly campaign of beheadings and mass rape and turned to social media to praise the killings of Westerners.
Trump tweeted last month that Muthana would not be allowed back even though he is pushing other Western countries to bring back hundreds of jihadists for prosecution.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated on Monday in an interview with WOC Radio that Muthana would not be allowed to return.
“She’s a terrorist, and we shouldn’t bring back foreign terrorists to the United States of America,” Pompeo said. “It’s not the right thing to do.”
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