A 20-year-old woman from a Birmingham, Alabama suburb has left the United States to join the Islamic State militant group in Syria, local broadcaster WIAT reported on Monday.
The report came as US authorities said they have charged six young Somali-American men from Minnesota with planning to join the fighters who have declared an Islamic Caliphate on land they have seized in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Western countries have become increasingly worried about the numbers of citizens signing up with jihadi groups, fearing they could return to launch attacks at home.
Hoda Muthana made contact with militants through social media and had been distancing herself from other Muslims in Hoover for more a year before leaving, said family spokesman Hassan Shibly, according to WIAT.
Hoda’s father Mohammed told BuzzFeed that her introduction to social media started with the smartphone he gave her as a high school graduation gift in 2013. She wasn’t technically allowed to have social media accounts or post photos of herself (although her brothers were), but she apparently found a way around that.
Mohammed said he sometimes took her phone to check what was on it. He told BuzzFeed: “When I get the phone from her, sometimes she scared, and I thought, ‘What do you have?'”
During the year and a half before she left for Syria, Hoda became more devoutly religious. She told BuzzFeed that it was due in part to Islamic lectures she found on the internet.
In 2013, Hoda secretly set up a Twitter account that allowed her to find and connect with ISIS members and supporters, including Aqsa Mahmood, who left her home in Scotland to join ISIS.
The family spokesman, who is also an attorney and chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, said the woman’s family was devastated when she left and has been working with authorities ever since, WIAT reported.
“They have been going through unimaginable pain and hardship for the past few months,” he told reporters on Monday at a press conference broadcast by WIAT.
Reuters could not independently verify the report. The news of Muthana’s departure was first reported by BuzzFeed on Friday.
(Reuters reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco)
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