Alabama mother begs to return to US, says moving to Syria and marrying ISIS fighters was 'a big mistake'

Chris McGrath/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With U.S.-backed forces closing in on ISIS in Syria, young mother Hoda Muthana is pleading for a second chance and the opportunity to return home to her family in Alabama.

"I realized I've made a big mistake and I know I've ruined my future and my son's future and I deeply, deeply regret it," she said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

Muthana is one 1,500 foreign women and children in a Kurdish-run refugee camp in northern Syria.

In 2017, Muthana’s father told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that he'd been proud when she seemed to become more devout about religion. He said he had no idea that she was secretly taking cues from ISIS recruiters sending her messages over the phone.

"I never thought in my life that it would happen to us, to me, to my family, but it happened," he said. "It could happen to any other family."

Muthana, who now has an 18-month-old son, left Alabama four years ago at the age of 19. She spread ISIS propaganda online, calling for attacks on Americans.

According to, she tweeted messages encouraging people to "'spill American blood."

Now, after surrendering to Kurdish authorities, she told the Guardian that she fears for her safety.

"From what I heard, if they were to read my messages, I would have been killed," she said.

Muthana has been married three times to ISIS fighters. Each time, she was made a widow.

In a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News, she described herself as a "naive, angry and arrogant" young woman when she set out for Syria. Muthana said she thought she understood her religious beliefs and had stopped listening to her family.

"That was a big mistake," she said in the letter.

"During my years in Syria I would see and experience a way of life and the terrible effects of war which changed me. Seeing bloodshed up close changed me. Motherhood changed me. Seeing friends, children and the men I married dying changed me. Seeing how different a society could be compared to the beloved America I was born and raised into changed me," she said.

"Being where I was and seeing the ppl around me scared me because I realized I didn’t want to be a part of this. My beliefs weren’t the same as theirs. In my quiet moments, in between bombings, starvation, cold and fear I would look at my beautiful little boy and know that I didn’t belong here and neither did he. I would think sometimes of my family, my friends and the life that I knew and I realized how I didn’t appreciate or maybe even really understand how important the freedoms that we have in America are. I do now. 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."

Muthana is expected to be brought home to face justice, which President Donald Trump has pushed other countries to do as well.

Muthana's family lawyer, Hassan Shibly, said Muthana wanted to return to the U.S. to be "accountable for her choices," and to hopefully be a powerful voice to ensure that others don't repeat the mistakes she made.

"I think the facts are clear that Hoda Muthana was a vulnerable young woman who was taken advantage of by these terrorist, criminal masterminds who ultimately brainwashed her and led to make some extremely horrible choices that she deeply regrets," he said.

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Meghan Markle makes secret trip to New York City as she prepares for baby

Tolga Akmen -WPA Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK ) -- Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, made a surprise trip to New York City as she prepares for the birth of her first child.

Meghan, who is due this spring, traveled to New York this weekend on a personal trip to see friends before she has her baby, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie.

Scobie reports that Meghan is staying in a five-star hotel for a girls' weekend. The Duchess of Sussex left London on Feb. 15 and will be in New York for five nights, according to Scobie, who wrote about Meghan's visit for Harper's Bazaar.

"The trip was planned some months ago and, with [with an official trip to] Morroco this weekend, is the last available time Meghan can travel before the Baby Sussex is born," Scobie told "Good Morning America." "Over the weekend she has been catching up with some of her closest friends, visiting favorite spots in the city and even shopping for baby clothes."

Meghan a California native, fit the trip across the pond into a packed schedule of official engagements as she counts down her final weeks of pregnancy. She told a well-wisher last month that she is due in April.

Meghan and Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, attended the gala performance of “The Wider Earth” at the Natural History Museum in London on Feb. 12. Just a few days before, on Feb. 7, the couple walked the red carpet at the Endeavour Fund Awards.

Meghan has also been stepping out solo for her own charitable engagements, visiting all four of the charities of which she is now patron.

She and Harry are scheduled to travel to Morocco this weekend for an official visit on behalf of the British government.

News of Meghan's private trip to New York City came just one day after the Sunday Times of London reported that Prince Harry and Prince William will split their royal household within weeks.

Harry and Meghan are expected to move soon to Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Windsor Estate, about 30 miles from London. The move means Harry and Meghan will no longer be neighbors to Prince William and Kate, who live in Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace.

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US Sen. Marco Rubio visits Colombia, addresses Venezuelan military

Zach Gibson/Getty Images(CUCUTA, Colombia) -- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made a surprise visit to Cucuta, Colombia, a town along the Venezuelan border on Sunday, visiting centers where the humanitarian aid is being stored. The senator also sent a message to Venezuela's military, which has so far stood by embattled president Nicolas Maduro and has blocked aid from entering the country.

"Sometimes the time comes when we have to make a decision, a decision that will define the rest of our lives," Rubio said. "I believe that time has come for many military and police and national guard members."

"Will you prevent the food and medicine from reaching your own people? Your own families, your neighbors? Because if you do, not only will God condemn you in the other life, but you will also be condemned by the law because that is an international crime, a crime against humanity, that is very clear and they must make the right choice because the moment to make a decision has arrived," Rubio said.

Rubio spoke at the Simon Bolivar Bridge, which thousands of Venezuelans cross every day to flee the country´s economic crisis or to buy essentials like food and medicine. He was accompanied by delegates sent by Venezuela´s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Mark Green and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Carlos Trujillo.

"You are not alone, freedom is coming. The ocean of waves of freedom are growing. What is inevitable, what will happen is the absolute freedom of the Venezuelan people," Diaz-Balart said.

Rubio has advocated early on for the global recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela´s interim president, often tweeting and addressing Maduro directly, sending firm messages that his time in power is coming to an end.

"Maduro thinks he can wait this out. Just buy time until the protests lose momentum and the world loses interest" Rubio tweeted on Saturday. "Not gonna happen! It only gets worse for him from here."

During his visit to the Simon Bolivar Bridge, Rubio called Guaido, saying that while they were currently not together, "soon, Mr. President, we will be standing together in a free Venezuela."

Afterwards, Rubio and those accompanying him visited the Tienditas Bridge where U.S.-provided humanitarian aid is currently being stored.

"We have over 300 metric tons of food and medicine ready to deliver to the suffering people inside Venezuela. #MaduroCrimeFamily is doing everything they can to keep this from reaching their own people. This is pure evil," Rubio tweeted from inside the warehouse, surrounded by bags of USAID supplies.

Rubio, Diaz-Balart and Trujillo also walked along the bridge to the gates and containers that are currently blocking access to the Venezuelan side, placed by Maduro and guarded by Venezuela’s military under his command.

"Those containers behind us were put there by a terrorist, criminal regime. It isn´t going to work. Food and medicine will reach the people of Venezuela," Rubio tweeted, along with a video of himself, Diaz-Balart and Trujillo standing in front of the containers.

Guaido has vowed the aid will enter Venezuela, and announced that on Feb. 23 he will make the first attempt to bring aid across the border. He has asked for people to volunteers to help deliver it to those inside the country who need it the most.

According to Guaido, over half a million Venezuelans have signed up to volunteer to distribute aid in the country.

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Princes William, Harry splitting royal household: Report

Stephen Pond/Getty Images(LONDON) --  As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prepare to have their first child and move to a new home, another big change is reportedly ahead for the royals.

Prince Harry, 34, and his brother Prince William, 36, will split their royal households within weeks, according to the Sunday Times of London.

"It is the end of the 'Fab Four' as we know it," Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for the Sunday Times, said of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan. "They aren't going to have a joint team at Kensington Palace anymore. They are going to be going their separate ways."

The plan to split the households has been in the works since before Meghan and Harry's wedding last year, according to sources.

Royal watchers say the division is a sign of differing responsibilities for the sons of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. William, a father of three, is preparing to be king, while Harry is preparing to become a parent for the first time.

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expected to move soon to Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Windsor Estate, about 30 miles from London. The move means Harry and Meghan, who is due this spring, will no longer be neighbors to Prince William and Kate, who live in Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace.

It also means Harry will be leaving his childhood home, where he was raised with William by Princess Diana.

Harry and Meghan had lived at Nottingham Cottage, Harry’s home on the grounds of Kensington Palace, since their engagement last year.

"You have William and Kate who are one day to be king and queen and increasingly the work they are starting to do and will be doing more of is more about the future king, future queen consort," Nikkhah said. "Harry and Meghan have a much more of a blank canvas with their roles going forward."

"They don't have that kind of responsibility," she added. "They seem to be forging a different kind of path."

William, Kate, Harry and Meghan will continue to work together on The Royal Foundation, their charitable endeavor that supports issues including mental health, veterans, conservation and at-risk youths.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s office will remain based at Kensington Palace, the palace said in a statement last November, when Meghan and Harry's planned move to Windsor was announced.

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China closes its Mount Everest base camp to tourists due to garbage, waste

DanielPrudek/iStock(BEIJING) -- China has closed its Mount Everest base camp and the area just beyond it to tourists for the foreseeable future, with authorities blaming a growing waste and garbage problem on the mountain.

In December 2018, the local government in Dingri County in Tibet began posting notices that because of a new national environmental protection law, "no unit or individuals are allowed entry into the core area of the Mount Qomolangma National Nature Reserve" ("Qomolangma" is the Tibetan name for Everest).

Gesang Droma, the deputy director of China’s Qomolangma National Nature Reserve, told ABC News the new restrictions were mainly directed at regular tourists and confirmed that mountaineering, scientific research and geological disaster research will still be allowed to take place inside the reserve.

Tourists will now no longer have access to the research base camp and can only reach as far as the Rongbuk Monastery at 16,400 feet above sea level. Only those with proper permits will be able to access base camp just over a mile away -- and, with that, go beyond base camp onto the mountain.

Gesang told ABC News tourists will be still be able see the dramatic north face of Everest from the monastery and that Everest Reserve is "sensitive to ecological fragility."

Tibet Autonomous Region Sports Bureau said in a statement that during last year's climbing season, they collected 8.4 metric tons of waste including garbage and human waste from the core area.

The People's Daily
reported that this year, authorities are restricting permits to only 300 climbers and the mountain is only open to climbing during the spring. China will also now charge a $1,500 per climber rubbish collection fee and each climber will be required to bring down 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of garbage back down with them to hand over to authorities.

The most popular and more commercial route to summit Everest remains via Nepal in the south. In 2017, there were 648 summits and 217 were from the Tibet side.

The northern route via Tibet is often seen as the colder and more challenging but less crowded route, with slightly cheaper but more stringent permits that are regularly subjected to ever-changing Chinese regulations including travel restrictions into the Tibet Autonomous Region.

However, the base camp on the Chinese side, which is easily accessible by a road, has been a popular tourist sight for domestic tourists, attracting 59,000 visitors as recently as 2014. That year, only 7,400 were foreign tourists.

The registration deadline for the Chinese permits for the spring climbing season is Feb. 28.

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Pence accuses Iran of advocating for 'another Holocaust' during Europe trip

Alexandra Beier/Getty Images(MUNICH) -- Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran of advocating for another Holocaust on Saturday as he finished up a European tour in which he threatened tougher U.S. sanctions against the country, and asked for other countries to follow America’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

“The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it,” Pence said while speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Pence’s latest remarks come on the heels of appearances at international conferences in Warsaw, Poland, and Munich, Germany, in which he repeatedly attacked Iran, and the Iran nuclear deal.

That deal, signed by the Obama administration in 2015 along with leaders from the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany, offered Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for restricting its nuclear program. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the deal in 2018.

Along with accusations of state-sponsored terrorism, Pence blasted Iran during his week in Europe for anti-Semitism, going as far as to compare the country to Nazi Germany.

Pence visited Auschwitz on Friday, a former concentration camp in Nazi Germany-occupied Poland, and said he was “deeply moved.” As the vice president left Poland en route to Germany, he reflected on the trip, noting the importance of honoring Holocaust victims, and saying that ant-Semitism needed to be universally condemned.

Traveling to Munich to deliver his second international address, Pence condemned the Iranian regime for spewing the same “vile anti-Semitic hatred” that animated the Nazis in Europe.

During his Munich remarks, the vice president said Iran had “supported terrorist proxies and militias, Hezbollah and Hamas; exported missiles; fueled conflicts in Syria and Yemen; plotted terrorist attacks on European soil; and openly advocated the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Pence said that he had frank discussions with world leaders during his trip, but stopped short of suggesting any European nations had to immediately answer U.S. calls to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

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Fresh supplies of US aid arrive on Venezuela's border awaiting delivery into the country

ABC News(CUCUTA, Columbia) -- The second wave of humanitarian aid provided by the U.S. government for Venezuela arrived Saturday in the town of Cucuta along the Colombia-Venezuela border, only a week after the first wave of U.S. supplies arrived on the border in response to Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaido's request for humanitarian assistance.

“This wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. More is on the way,” Mark Green, top administrator for the U.S. Agency International for International Development (USAID) said after arriving in the border town of Cucuta on one of the three U.S. military planes carrying the aid.

Yet like a previous delivery of U.S. aid a week ago, the vitally-needed supplies -- food, medical supplies, hygiene kits, nutritional products and more -- remain in limbo on the Colombia-Venezuela border, blocked from entry into the country by embattled President Nicolas Maduro, who is struggling to maintain power against growing opposition inside and outside of the South American nation.

Green said that the U.S. aid is being provided as a response to a request from Guaido, who was declared interim president by the country’s National Assembly on January 23rd.

During the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged European nations to join the United States in recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

“Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognize Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” Pence said.

During a nationwide protest on Tuesday, Guaido announced that, on February 23rd, Venezuela’s opposition will conduct the first attempt to bring the aid from Cucuta into Venezuela to be delivered to those who need it the most, calling for volunteers to help in the delivery efforts.

So far, over half a million Venezuelans have signed up to volunteer deliver the aid from Colombia into Venezuela, according to Guaido.

During the delivery of aid on Saturday, Lester Toledo, Guaido’s appointed coordinator for the international aid efforts, announced that three additional aid centers will soon open in Brazil, Curaçao and Miami, Florida, pleading once again with Venezuela’s military to let the aid enter the country.

The new round of aid includes hygiene kits for about 25,000 people and emergency meal supplements aimed to feed approximately 3,500 children suffering from malnutrition for two months.

But Maduro has called the aid a show and an excuse for U.S. intervention in Venezuela, saying that Venezuelans aren’t beggars.

On Friday, Maduro announced a special plan for permanent deployment of Venezuela’s military to keep the body “mobilized, developing defense plans against conspiracies and provocations, wherever they come from.”

But the new delivery of aid is just one of multiple problems Maduro is facing this week.

On Friday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on five officials in Maduro’s circle, including his intelligence chief and first commissioner, the head of the military’s counter-intelligence agency, the head of the national police’s special for es and the head of Venezuela’s state-owner oil company PDVSA.

A day later, Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that things will only get worse for Maduro, saying that “I know for a fact that several in his inner circle are looking for an exit strategy. Just a matter of time.”

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Vice President Pence calls on European leaders to recognize Venezuela's opposition leader

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(MUNICH) -- As tension in Venezuela continues to escalate, Vice President Mike Pence took the stage at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday to call on European nations to stand by the United States in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president.

“The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy. Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolas Maduro must go,” Pence said, referring to Venezuela's president.

Pence, who has been heavily involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to resolve the ongoing tension in Venezuela, called for European allies to do more.

“Now, it’s time for the rest of the world to step forward,” he stated.

Over the past few weeks, the Trump administration has challenged Maduro's claim to the presidency and instead recognized Guaido as the country's leader, amid sustained and at times violent protests.

Pence told reporters that USAID is working closely with Guaido to make sure humanitarian aid gets to those suffering in the country.

“I know that USAID officials have been working very closely with Juan Guaido to ensure that the humanitarian aid that has already been delivered, additional aid that is in route from the United States and other countries is positioned in a place where we will be able to move it into Venezuela to assist the families that are struggling there,” Pence said.

Pence, who held a roundtable discussion earlier this month with exiles from Venezuela in Florida, has vowed to continue to apply pressure “until the suffering is over and freedom is restored.”

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury announced it is sanctioning five top Venezuelan officials as it seeks to tighten the hold on Maduro and his government and force the socialist leader to resign.

Maduro, meanwhile, told the Associated Press this week that his government has had secret talks with the United States. He also told the wire service he expects to survive the increasing calls for him step down.

The president also said his foreign minister Elliott Abrams, the Washington-based special envoy for Venezuela, to visit the country.

“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details, according to the AP.

The Munich Security Conference brings together more than 450 senior leaders from all over the world including presidents, ministers and heads of states.

As Pence spoke, there were familiar faces in the audience. The largest U.S. congressional delegation traveled to Munich to attend the conference, including some prominent skeptics of Trump’s national emergency declaration.

Among those attending were South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whom Pence recognized at the top of his remarks.

President Donald Trump met with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez on Thursday to discuss what they called “the democratic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”

The United States and Colombia vowed to work together with Guaido to provide aid to Venezuelans in need and to “restore, freedom, democracy, and prosperity,” according to White House statement.

When asked if the White House is considering military action in the country, Trump replied he is looking at “a number of different options.”

The president is expected to travel to Florida on Monday to continue to express support for Venezuela.

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Brexit 'preppers' stockpiling supplies in case of a doomsday 'no-deal'

ABC News(LONDON) --  Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, but with less than two months to go, the country’s future is more uncertain than ever. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on the terms of Brexit, and there are growing fears that the U.K. could leave the E.U. without a deal, which many experts and business leaders say could have disastrous economic consequences. In such a confusing and chaotic political landscape, a growing number of people in the U.K. are taking matters into their own hands by becoming Brexit “preppers” — stockpiling foods and medicines in their own homes in case of the hardship of a “no-deal Brexit.”

Graham Hughes, a travel writer based in northeast England, began stockpiling last summer as it became increasingly clear that politicians seemed no closer to finding a solution to the Brexit problems.

“I started stockpiling last summer, because it was getting to the point where the government still didn’t seem to know what it was playing at and how things were going to unfold,” he told ABC News. “And we are an island nation, we are completely reliant on food coming in.”

Graham is a Guinness World Record holder for visiting every country in the world without using a plane. He has a degree in politics and is not a naturally cautious person, he said. But Graham has now amassed at least a few months supply of canned foods, hygienic products and ordinary medicines.

As news reports regularly come out warning of the impact of a no-deal Brexit, he felt it was necessary to begin stockpiling extra food with his partner and her two children.

The BBC reported last month that pharmacists are struggling to obtain many common medicines. Farming leaders told the government a “no-deal” would be “catastrophic” for U.K. food supplies, according to The Guardian. The Times also reported that officials are considering plans to declare a state of emergency and introduce martial law in the event of “no-deal" last month.

“It’s painful. And for a government to do this it’s cruel,” Hughes said. “To say to every company in the United Kingdom, every individual, 'Do you know what, in two months’ time we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re hoping for the best.' That’s just not good enough.”

Graham is not alone in having these concerns. Others gather online in a small but growing Facebook group named 48% Peppers. Its membership has doubled in size over the past 30 days to 10,000 people, as the Brexit deadline looms ever closer. The "48%" refers to the percentage of the British population that voted to remain in the European Union in 2016.

While Graham said that he has “never wanted to be so wrong” in his life, he is above all acting out of concern for his family.

“Never before in my lifetime have we been in a situation where we’ve had to do this kind of thing,” he said. “Where we’ve had to take steps to make sure my family has enough food. My dad has enough medicine. It’s a very strange feeling.”

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US citizen detained in Egypt for over 5 years is dying, desperate for release

Kassem Family(CAIRO) -- A U.S. citizen detained in Egypt for five-and-a-half years who is on a hunger strike is dying, according to his lawyer and family.

Five months after Moustafa Kassem wrote letters to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence pleading for their help, the New York City taxi driver and father of two has not been freed by the government of strongman President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

"My brother can't wait weeks or months. He is dying now," his sister Iman Kassem said in a statement this week.

Kassem started his hunger strike in September when he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in a mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants: "I am losing my will and don't know how else to get your attention," he wrote in those letters to Trump and Pence, adding that while he knows "full well that I may not survive," he had no choice.

Kassem is fed a liquid-only diet, but his health has greatly deteriorated, especially given his diabetes.

"Given his fragile health, we are very concerned," said Praveen Madhiraju, Kassem's lawyer and executive director of Pretrial Rights International, who added that Kassem has lost significant weight, been losing his hair and several times lost consciousness.

They are urging the Trump administration to do more to pressure Sisi, who the president is close with, and secure Kassem's release.

A dual U.S. and Egyptian citizen, Kassem was visiting his wife and two children, then 3 and 6 years old, in August 2013. It was a particularly volatile moment in Egypt's recent history — one month after the military seized power following days of protests against the recently elected government of Mohamed Morsi.

In Morsi's place, then-General Sisi took control, implementing a crackdown on political opposition and civil society that has since expanded. About 20 Americans currently are in Egyptian jails, but there are as many as 60,000 political prisoners across Egypt, according to a Human Rights Watch report in 2017.

Sisi denied there were any political prisoners in a recent interview with CBS News.

On Aug. 14, 2013, the night before Kassem was set to return to the U.S., he went out in Cairo to exchange some money and shop, when security officials detained him and accused him of participating in protests against the military takeover in a nearby square, according to Madhiraju. The military was cracking down on the demonstrations in what human rights groups say was the single deadliest incident in Sisi's sweep to power, with as many as 800 killed.

Accused of being an American spy because of his U.S. passport and beaten by security forces, Kassem has been imprisoned ever since. His lawyers have called all the charges against him bogus.

"His imprisonment is only one example of Egypt's out-of-control security state, which has imprisoned tens of thousands for expressing political opinions or even for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for democracy in the region.

Just this week, the Egyptian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow Sisi to remain in power until 2034. After winning reelection in April 2018 in a vote with no real opposition and where his biggest opponent was jailed, Sisi's second term is currently set to expire in 2022, when he would be forced to step down.

In recent months, Kassem and his lawyers have given up appealing his case and filed paperwork to renounce his Egyptian citizenship, so that he could be deported. But at least three times now, according to Madhiraju, Egyptian authorities have denied that he has submitted paperwork, prolonging his detention.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not respond to request for comment on Friday.

Kassem's case was raised publicly and directly with Sisi by Pence when he visited Cairo in January 2018: "President Al Sisi assured me that he would give that very serious attention. ... I told him we'd like to see those American citizens restored to their families and restored to our country," he said at the time.

Kassem's sister Iman pleaded with Pence directly, "For him, his wife and his children, I'm asking Vice President Pence to please bring him home."

But there are concerns that Secretary of State Pompeo did not raise his case when he met Sisi more recently in January. Madhiraju told ABC News that he was told Pompeo did not, a claim that ABC cannot independently verify.

When asked, State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement, "We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem and have raised his case repeatedly with the Egyptian government both here and in Egypt."

Palladino said the U.S. is "concerned about the toll" on Kassem's health and remains "in communication with Mr. Kassem, his family and his attorney about the case and will continue providing appropriate consular service."

Consular officials from the U.S. embassy have been able to visit Kassem on multiple occasions over the last few years, Madhiraju said.

But on whether Pompeo specifically raised the case, a State Department official would only add, "While we don't discuss private diplomatic conversations, Mr. Kassem's case has been raised at the highest levels."

During his time in Cairo, Pompeo was asked about raising detained Americans' cases and told reporters, "We talk about the full panoply of human rights issues each time we engage."

"His case shows the willingness of President Sisi's regime to ignore legitimate concerns expressed by the Trump White House for an American citizen wrongly imprisoned in awful conditions and in dangerously poor health," said McInerney, adding that the fact that Pompeo may not have raised Kassem's case "gives the appearance that this administration has lost interest in the fate of an American citizen in critical condition."

Critics have said the Trump administration has been quieter on human rights and cozier with strongmen, from Vladimir Putin of Russia to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to Sisi in Egypt.

After withholding $195 million in aid to Egypt over human rights concerns in 2017, the State Department announced in July it was releasing that money "in the spirit of our efforts to further strengthen this partnership," an official told ABC News at the time. The same week Kassem was sentenced, the administration announced it had approved the possible sale of $99 million worth of tank rounds to Egypt, calling it a "friendly country" and "important strategic partner."

Annually, the U.S. typically provides Egypt with more than a billion dollars in aid and military assistance — the second highest amount behind Israel.

But Trump's tight bond and warm words with Sisi have yielded some results, too.

In April 2017, Egypt freed Aya Hijazi, a U.S. citizen and humanitarian aid worker, her husband Mohamed Hassanein and four others after Trump and his top aides urged Sisi to do so as a goodwill gesture.

For Kassem, there still hasn't been an Oval Office celebration.

He hasn't celebrated a birthday in years, either. On Monday, he turned 54 years old, and when his family tried to visit him to mark the occasion — his fifth birthday behind bars — they were forced to wait nine hours and then ultimately blocked by Egyptian officials, Madhiraju said.

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