British minister: Shamima Begum must answer for time in Syria
British minister says British foreign fighters cannot be stopped from returning to the UK
ISIS Briton Shamima Begum is likely to stand trial if she successfully returns to Britain from a displacement camp in northern Syria, the UK’s Middle East minister has told The National.
Alistair Burt said that hundreds of Britons who travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of ISIS would be allowed to return amid a growing debate over how the 19-year-old and her new-born baby should be treated.
The UK government indicated at the weekend that Britain would be obliged to allow Ms Begum to return, while her baby could be taken from her by authorities to prevent a second generation of the family being indoctrinated to reject British values.
Mr Burt said that Ms Begum could be assured of a fair trial despite a series of interviews given by the young woman in which she failed to denounce ISIS and told of how it did not “faze” her when she saw a decapitated head in a bin. She labelled life under ISIS control as relatively normal.
“If she makes her way to a border and makes her way back to the UK ... then she would be handled appropriately,” he told The National in an interview at the British embassy in Abu Dhabi.
He said her ability to return to the UK had been made more difficult by the absence of any British consular services in Syria.
“There is no doubt that she will face a fair trial in the UK based on what she has done and no citizen, whatever they have done, need fear that they do not,” he said.
Ms Begum, who was 15 when she fled to Syria to join ISIS with two schoolmates, was discovered in a displacement camp last week and gave birth to a boy on Sunday.
Her son has been called Jarrar, in memory of one of the two children Ms Begum lost during her time with ISIS.
She pleaded to be repatriated to the UK for the sake of her newborn child and asked for sympathy. Her husband, Dutch convert turned fighter Yago Riedijk, is currently being held separately by the UK’s allies in Syria.
European governments are grappling with the difficulties of the returns of potentially thousands of their citizens who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS.
EU members have indicated that they wanted fighters accused of the most serious offences to be tried and sentenced in Syria and Iraq before being returned to the UK.
But officials have warned that the countries, particularly Germany, France and the UK, need to address the long-term demands to rehabilitate battle-hardened fighters amid fears of a similar “blowback” seen after the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The comments by Mr Burt follow a series of statements by British ministers advocating a hardline approach towards British foreign fighters.
Defence Minister Gavin Williamson said in December 2017 that they should be hunted down and killed to ensure they never return to the UK. The Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the government could strip “dangerous individuals” of their citizenship.
In 2016, 14 people had their British citizenship withdrawn compared to 104 in 2017, in measures that were considered “conducive to the public good”, according to a government report released in July last year.
But the situation of restricting returns has been complicated by the estimated 1,500 European children taken to war-stricken areas or born there to radicalised parents.
Mr Burt said they would likely need long-term care to prevent the emergence of a second generation of dangerous radicals bent on attacking their home country.
“Children born abroad is a difficult category because the children will have been entirely innocent of the events surrounding them.
“They may well have been badly damaged by what they have seen and efforts must be made to ensure in the future they’ve not suffered from that, so at the very least they don’t feel a sense of grievance and become involved in terror or extremism themselves.”
Ms Begum's lawyer has said she was being treated worse than a Nazi standing trial at Nuremburg.
Tasnime Akunjee said his client was traumatised and compared her current mental state to soldiers “in shellshock” during the First World War.
“The Nazis had the Nuremberg trials. They were given due process. This girl was a victim when she went out there at 15 years old. Our politicians are saying that she should be denied protections and due process that would have been granted to Nazis,” Mr Akunjee told The Times.
He conceded that “what she’s saying isn’t helpful” but said she needed support and “will obviously have to be de-radicalised”.
“The family are aware of how people feel. But it's their daughter and their grandson, who came into existence yesterday.
“She's a British citizen at the end of the day. There's an innocent child here, the baby. Bringing that child back into safety is a moral duty any state would have,” he said.
Ms Begum was one of four girls from Bethnal Green in East London, who joined ISIS.
“She’s a British citizen, she will have to face the music when she comes back,” said Dal Babu, a former senior officer in London’s police force. “But first we need to acknowledge and scrutinise the decisions made by police, the local authority and school that allowed them to go in the first place.”
A fifth girl from Bethnal Green was stopped from travelling to Syria in 2014 but has not been prosecuted despite holding a vast collection of ISIS propaganda.
It was also alleged she was involved in a plot to attack a UK government building – a charge the then 15-year-old, and now adult, denies.
Updated: April 2, 2019 03:20 PM