Alabama woman who joined IS hopes to return from Syria camp

ROJ CAMP, Syria (AP) — A woman who ran away from home in Alabama at the age of 20, joined the Islamic State group and had a child with one of its fighters says she still hopes to return to the United States, serve prison time if necessary, and advocate against the extremists.

In a rare interview from the Roj detention camp in Syria where she is being held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, Hoda Muthana said she was brainwashed by online traffickers into joining the group in 2014 and regrets everything except her young son, now of pre-school age.

“If I need to sit in prison, and do my time, I will do it. … I won’t fight against it,” the 28-year-old told The News Movement. “I’m hoping my government looks at me as someone young at the time and naive.”

It’s a line she’s repeated in various media interviews since fleeing from one of the extremist group’s last enclaves in Syria in early 2019.

But four years earlier, at the height of the extremists’ power, she had voiced enthusiastic support for them on social media and in an interview with BuzzFeed News. IS then ruled a self-declared Islamic caliphate stretching across roughly a third of both Syria and Iraq. In posts sent from her Twitter account in 2015 she called on Americans to join the group and carry out attacks in the U.S., suggesting drive-by shootings or vehicle rammings targeting gatherings for national holidays.

In her interview with TNM, Muthana now says her phone was taken from her and that the tweets were sent by IS supporters.

Muthana was born in New Jersey to Yemeni immigrants and once had a U.S. passport. She was raised in a conservative Muslim household in Hoover, Alabama, just outside Birmingham. In 2014, she told her family she was going on a school trip but flew to Turkey and crossed into Syria instead, funding the travel with tuition checks that she had secretly cashed.

The Obama administration cancelled her citizenship in 2016, saying her father was an accredited Yemeni diplomat at the time she was born — a rare revocation of birthright citizenship. Her lawyers have disputed that move, arguing that the father’s diplomatic accreditation ended before she was born.

The Trump administration maintained that she was not a citizen and barred her from returning, even as it pressed European allies to repatriate their own detained nationals to reduce pressure on the detention camps.

U.S. courts have sided with the government on the question of Muthana’s citizenship, and last January the Supreme Court declined to consider her lawsuit seeking re-entry.

That has left her and her son languishing in a detention camp in northern Syria housing thousands of widows of Islamic State fighters and their children.

Some 65,600 suspected Islamic State members and their families — both Syrians and foreign citizens — are held in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria run by U.S.-allied Kurdish groups, according to a Human Rights Watch report released last month.

Women accused of affiliation with IS and their minor children are largely housed in the al-Hol and Roj camps, under what the rights group described as “life threatening conditions.” The camp inmates include more than 37,400 foreigners, among them Europeans and North Americans.

Human Rights Watch and other monitors have cited dire living conditions in the camps, including inadequate food, water and medical care, as well as the physical and sexual abuse of inmates by guards and fellow detainees.

Kurdish-led authorities and activists have blamed IS sleeper cells for surging violence within the facilities, including the beheading of two Egyptian girls, aged 11 and 13, in al-Hol camp in November. Turkish airstrikes targeting the Kurdish groups launched that month also hit close to al-Hol. Camp officials alleged that the Turkish strikes were targeting security forces guarding the camp.

“None of the foreigners have been brought before a judicial authority … to determine the necessity and legality of their detention, making their captivity arbitrary and unlawful,” Human Rights Watch wrote. “Detention based solely on family ties amounts to collective punishment, a war crime.”

Calls to repatriate the detainees were largely ignored in the immediate aftermath of IS’ bloody reign, which was marked by massacres, beheadings and other atrocities, many of which were broadcast to the world in graphic films circulated on social media.

But with the passage of time, the pace of repatriations has started to pick up. Human Rights Watch said some 3,100 foreigners — mostly women and children — have been sent home over the past year. Most were Iraqis, who comprise the majority of detainees, but citizens were also repatriated to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. has repatriated a total of 39 American nationals. It’s unclear how many other Americans remain in the camps.

These days, Muthana portrays herself as a victim of the Islamic State.

Speaking with TNM, she describes how, after arriving in Syria in 2014, she was detained in a guest house reserved for unmarried women and children. “I’ve never seen that kind of filthiness in my life, like there was 100 women and twice as much kids, running around, too much noise, filthy beds,” she said.

The only way to escape was to marry a fighter. She eventually married and remarried three times. Her first two husbands, including the father of her son, were killed in battle. She reportedly divorced her third husband.

The extremist group, which is also known as ISIS, no longer controls any territory in Syria or Iraq but continues to carry out sporadic attacks and has supporters in the camps themselves. Muthana says she still has to be careful about what she says because of fear of reprisal.

“Even here, right now, I can’t fully say everything I want to say. But once I do leave, I will. I will be an advocate against this,” she said. “I wish I can help the victims of ISIS in the West understand that someone like me is not part of it, that I as well am a victim of ISIS.”

Hassan Shibly, an attorney who has assisted Muthana’s family, said it is “absolutely clear that she was brainwashed and taken advantage of.”

He said her family wishes she could come back, pay her debt to society and then help others from “falling into the dark path that she was led down.”

“She was absolutely misguided, and no one is denying that. But again, she was a teenager who was the victim of a very sophisticated recruitment operation that focuses on taking advantage of the young, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised,” he said.

Walmart removes 'KKK boots' from online store

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Walmart has removed a listing from its online store after learning that a pair of men’s boots displayed the letters “KKK” on them.

According to a Walmart spokesperson, the “tactical military hiking boots” in question were listed by a third-party seller and removed on January 7, shortly after the Bentonville-based retailer became aware of them. A spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a grassroots civil rights and advocacy group, contacted Walmart’s corporate offices to “respectfully ask that they be removed” after receiving a tip about the shoes by email.

A Walmart spokesperson provided the following statement when asked to comment on the situation:

This item was listed by an outside third-party seller and removed because the item is inconsistent with our values and violates Walmart’s prohibited product policy. Like other major retailers, we operate an online marketplace that allows third-party sellers to offer merchandise to customers through our eCommerce platform. We have a process in place designed to prevent third party sellers from offering inappropriate items on our platform.

Still, at times, inappropriate items make their way onto our platform. We are reviewing how this happened and will apply what we learn to further improve our rules and processes to prevent the sale of inappropriate merchandise.

Walmart spokesperson, January 9

Walmart has a “Prohibited Products Policy” for marketplace sellers that provides an overview of products and categories that cannot be listed there. The boots are no longer available on the Walmart website.

“We thank Walmart for dropping an online listing for oddly/poorly named ‘KKK’ boots after we brought this to their attention,” CAIR said in a press release. 

Missouri's "Yellowstone Ranch" nestled in the Ozarks

Interior view of “The Double Down Ranch” located near the town of Cassville in Southwest Missouri (Photo courtesy: Allen Treadwell, Hayden Outdoors Real Estate).

CASSVILLE, Mo. — You’ve heard of “Yellowstone,” the incredibly popular television show on Paramount Network, featuring the “Dutton Family’s” beautiful, equestrian style home and the secluded property that surrounds the ranch. Even if you don’t watch the cowboy-themed program, you’ll still appreciate this Missouri ranch, with amenities that one could argue, trump its TV equivalent — and it could all be yours.

The Double Down Ranch” is a 77 acre, luxury equestrian property located in Barry County (near the Missouri/Arkansas state line), and is situated among the rolling hills of the Ozarks.

The listed price — $15 million, brokered by Hayden Outdoors Real Estate. The ranch consists of the main residence, riding arena, barns, a guest house, several equestrian facilities, and much more. There are a number of pastures sectioned off with hand-crafted pipe fencing and several corrals. The property is seeded with some of the best grass money can buy: Bermuda.

“It’s not for everyone, but if horses and a western lifestyle is your passion, then there’s not a better property in the world,” said Allen Treadwell, a licensed broker with Hayden Outdoors Real Estate.

SLIDESHOW: View Photos of The Double Down Ranch

Main Residence

The rustic main residence is a whopping 18,000 square feet. Yellow Pine beams, milled on the east coast in 1912, line much of the two-story interior, which consists of 4 bedrooms and 4-1/2 baths — all spread throughout several sections of the grand estate.

The east wing of this equestrian mansion was built for entertaining. It features a two story great room, stone fireplace, large curved bar, billiard room, and a private poker room. The highlight of the entertainment room: Several large, custom-made structural horseshoes built into the ceiling beams.

“The architect that designed the house spent almost two years in the design process and then it was a multi-year build. Everything was thought of, from the smallest details to the largest,” said Treadwell.

“The Double Down Ranch” main residence outdoor pool (Photo courtesy: Allen Treadwell, Hayden Outdoors Real Estate).

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In the central wing of the house, there’s a custom kitchen, breakfast nook, and wood stove. Just off the kitchen — a butler pantry with custom cabinetry, that includes a extra refrigerator and freezer. The grand dining room is exactly that — grand. It’s customized with hand-painted murals.

The north wing is dominated by the master suite. It’s designed with a seating area, fireplace, coffee bar, two sink vanity areas, two half baths, a walk-in shower, and a large soaking tub.

No mansion is complete without covered parking. This one comes with an eight-car garage.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent hours and hours on this property, and every time I’m there I see some new amazing detail that jumps out at you, including things I didn’t notice before. Overall, the attention to detail is remarkable,” said Treadwell.

Equestrian Facilities

Located on the 77 acre property is a massive, luxurious 60,000 square foot, climate-controlled riding arena with a stadium-sized sound system, LED lighting, and corrals. It’s capable of housing several thousand spectators. Treadwell said the riding arena is called, “The finest privately owned arena in the world.”

Near the arena are stalls, stables, and the main barn with six stalls, a managers office, bathroom and shower facilities, a loft for entertaining, and a large shop.

“There’s somebody out there that’s going to fall in love with this place, immediately. And it is going to be their dream. Because of the location that it is in, somebody’s going to get an incredible deal on this property. Price-wise, it’s no where near what it would cost if it were located in California or Texas,” said Treadwell.

The ranch features a 60,000 square foot, climate-controlled riding arena (Photo courtesy: Allen Treadwell, Hayden Outdoors Real Estate).

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Guest House

For family and friends, there’s even a guest house, separated from the main residence. Inside, you’ll find 6 bedrooms, 4 full baths and 2 half baths, spread out between two stories. This caretaker residence or guest house complements the look of the main house (interior and exterior). The interior has several high-end amenities, and there’s a two-car garage.

The ranch guest house features six bedrooms and four full baths (Photo courtesy: Allen Treadwell, Hayden Outdoors Real Estate).

Treadwell’s final sales pitch: “You couldn’t find something like this anywhere else in the world for for what you’re getting.”

Comet to pass by Earth for first time in 50,000 years

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

KSNF/KODE — A green comet discovered last March will make its closest approach to Earth this month. The comet “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” was first discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at California’s Zwicky Transient Facility. 

When it was first found, it was already inside the orbit of Jupiter. Since then, it has brightened substantially and is sweeping across the northern constellation, Corona Borealis in the predawn skies, according to NASA.

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The agency notes that it is still too dim to see without a telescope — though an image from December reveals its bright coma, short broad dust tail, and faint ion tail. The comet will soon be at perihelion, (its closest pass by the Sun) on January 12th and at the closest to Earth on February 1st. 

NASA notes that the brightness of comets is unpredictable, but by then, comet “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” could become only just visible to the eye in the night skies. The key for those wishing to see the comet then, will need to find a dark location to observe from. Those who live in the Northern Hemisphere will find the comet in the morning sky, as it moves swiftly toward the northwest during January.

Current projections suggest looking for two well known constellations to pinpoint the comet’s location. Between January 12th and February 1st, look for the comet to appear just south of the Big Dipper, and north of the Little Dipper.

According to NASA, the comet has a full orbit of around 50,000 years, meaning that the last time it came close to Earth was when Neanderthals roamed the planet.

Teacher overdoses in front of students, police say

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

KSNF/KODE — A public school teacher at a suburban New Jersey middle school has been arrested after he overdosed in front of students, police said.

According to the Westfield, NJ Police Department, students found 57-year-old Frank Thompson, an art teacher at Roosevelt Intermediate School in Westfield, unconscious on the floor of a classroom shortly after 9:00 a.m. on November 29th, 2022. School Resource Officer, Fortunata Riga administered the opioid antidote naloxone, which he carries with him, the police report stated.

Authorities later found drugs and drug paraphernalia in a classroom closet, and on Thursday (1/5), charged Thompson with endangering the welfare of children, possession of fentanyl and possession of drug paraphernalia. Thompson is due to appear in court on February 1st.

In the statement from police, school Superintendent, Dr. Raymond González said the district could not comment on personnel matters, but added, “We will maintain a continued focus on student and staff safety and on preserving the integrity of the classroom learning environment.”

Stamp prices are going up

KSNF/KODE — You have two more weeks to purchase stamps at the current price.

January 22nd, that’s when the price of a Forever Stamp will change from 60 cents to 63 cents.

According to the “United States Postal Service,” as operating costs are also on the rise, changes to prices are necessary in order to keep up with those costs, while still having a stable revenue.

USPS says this increase is part of a 10-year plan, which is meant to offset an estimated 160 billion dollars in losses throughout the next 10 years.

In July of last year, stamps saw a jump from 58 cents to 60 cents.

And on top of stamp price increases, there are some other changes regarding mailing weighted letters and packages.

You can find more information on The USPS website, where you can see the price differences for various sizes and weights of letters and packages.

Human remains identified in Colorado as former Joplin resident

KSNF/KODE — Officials confirm skeletal remains found in Colorado are those of a former Joplin man, who went missing back in 2021.

Here is a link to our previous coverage of this case.

Hikers in Colorado discovered the remains on September 25th of last year in the area of Middle Mountain Road in Pagosa Springs.

The “Pagosa Springs Police Department” announced Friday the remains were officially identified as 42-year-old Michael Kroll.

Authorities list Kroll as a Joplin resident, but say he had been in the Pagosa Springs area shortly before he was reported missing on October 19, 2021.

The case remains an active and ongoing investigation.

New Year's resolution: Start clearing your phone's cache

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

KSNF/KODE — A smartphone is an amazing little device, letting you fit a flashlight, camera and computer in your pocket. It gives you access to the entire worldwide web on the go, letting you browse through page after page of information online at high speeds.

But even the latest iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models might start to feel sluggish over time. One of the simplest New Year’s resolutions you can make is to start clearing your iPhone cache every month. If you’re not quite sure what cached data is, let’s take a quick look.

What Is Cached Data?

With every app opened or website visited, comes a flood of information. The user gets to enjoy content in exchange for location info, which device they’re using, which browser they’re using, time spent on pages, and other user behaviors.

Then there’s cached data.

Laptops, tablets, smartphones — it doesn’t matter. All our devices have some level of reserved space to store this type of data for quick access.

The technique of storing cache data or cache files as history on a phone or web browser to improve the user experience on future visits to a website or an app is known as “caching.”

Is Cached Data Important?

Cached data isn’t inherently important, as it’s only considered “temporary storage.” However, it does exist to improve the user experience.

On-page elements like images, videos, and even text take some time to load. When this data is cached, we can reopen the app or revisit the page with confidence that it won’t take anywhere near as much time.

Cache memory also saves states. For example, if you close your Twitter app and reopen it 10 minutes later, you’ll be able to scroll down and see posts that were previously loaded. Without cache, everything would need to reload. You can specifically remove the cache on certain websites but leave others in place, which can be particularly useful if you are managing multiple sites.

Should I Clear My Cache?

The short answer is ‘yes.’ If you find your mobile device memory being drained from cached data, you should probably clear it. After all, cached data isn’t vital to the performance of an app or website; it just means the files on it will have to be reloaded.

Although, constantly clearing your cache isn’t a permanent solution since you’ll eventually be reopening apps and revisiting websites at some point. The data will be re-cached, and the cycle will continue.

If you’re that strapped for memory, consider deleting old text messages, images, or video files on your device. It’s also worth looking into cloud-based file storage and sharing software like Google Drive or Dropbox if you want to hold on to your files. These options typically offer a free amount of cloud space.

How To Clear Cached Data

  • You’ll find easy instructions for clearing cached data on an iPhone, HERE.
  • If you’re phone runs on Android, you’ll find an easy “how-to” guide for clearing cache, HERE.

What to expect in 2023 when it comes to gas prices

A man fills up his truck with gas at Casey’s General Store, located at 7th Street and Schifferdecker Avenue in Joplin, Missouri.

KSNF/KODE — In 2022, consumers saw record-high gas prices thanks to refineries being shut down by COVID, drivers getting back on the road, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After all the commotion in gas prices last year, what can drivers expect in 2023?

According to GasBuddy’s 2023 Fuel Outlook that was released today (1/6), the yearly national average price of gas in 2023 is forecast to drop nearly 50 cents per gallon from that of 2022, to $3.49.

Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, told KMOX News Radio in St. Louis that prices should start falling in the early, colder months of the year.

“Americans don’t drive as much in January and February. But we tend to see prices start going up in late February, early March, that’s when we start to transition to more expensive summer gasoline,” said DeHann.

That’s also when Americans typically “come out of their hibernation,” he explained, increasing the demand for gasoline.

“And then we see a decline again in the fall as we do every year. And people are going to say, ‘oh, it’s an election.’ Well, demand goes down in the fall. That’s what we saw this (last) year as well. And so that’s kind of the yearly chart of prices, they go up in the spring, they fall in the fall,” said DeHann.

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DeHaan added that since oil refineries are also subject  to the elements, they can be affected by subzero temperatures — things like steam production and frozen valves can cause prices to shoot up.

But, one thing that doesn’t affect gas prices, DeHaan said, is politics.

“Everyone likes to think the president is all-powerful and controls everything. But this is a global commodity. This is not just something that the US is producing and consuming ourselves as a global market. Hundreds of countries consume oil and the president has very little control over what’s happening in oil producing countries and oil consuming countries.”

Romance novelist fakes suicide, returns to Facebook

Books written by author, Susan Meachen (Photo courtesy: Getty Images).

KSNF/KODE — A romance novelist has been accused of faking her own suicide after posting that she was alive two years after a social media status from her account announced her death, USA Today reported. Susan Meachen sparked a furious reaction from other self-published writers after announcing she was alive and had simply needed a break from social media. 

“I debated on how to do this a million times and still not sure if it’s right or not. I am in a good place now and I am hoping to write again. Let the fun begin,” the Tennessee-based author said before the controversy enraged the world of independent novelists.

The writer of titles such as His Wicked Way and Chance Encounter said, “But my family did what they thought was best for me and I can’t fault them for it. I almost died again at my own hand and they had to go through all that hell again.”

Her Facebook page became a shrine to the scribe after it was used to announce her death in October 2020.  A post on the page blamed her suicide on harassment and bullying from other members of the book community.

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USA Today reported that the page was later used to give away audiobook codes of her novels, raise funds for charities, and to source editors for her unpublished work. In 2021, a Facebook post by someone claiming to be Mrs. Meachen’s daughter said her mother’s books would be “unpublished” unless sales increased. 

Love to Last a Lifetime, the tale of a man born to riches who falls for his best friend’s girlfriend, was published and put on sale shortly after her “death,” said Rolling Stone Magazine.