Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

British schoolgirl who joined ISIS wants to return home

British officials have been non-committal over the repatriation of Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum, centre, joined ISIS with Kadiza Sultana, left, and and Amira Abase. Metropolitan Police via AP
Shamima Begum, centre, joined ISIS with Kadiza Sultana, left, and and Amira Abase. Metropolitan Police via AP

One of three girls who left Britain in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria faces an investigation the UK's security minister has warned.

Shamima Begum, now 19 and heavily pregnant, left the UK in February 2015, when she flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey and later crossed the border into Syria.

After arriving in Raqqa, she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam. The couple escaped from Bagouz – the last remaining enclave of extremists in eastern Syria – two weeks ago.

While her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, she is now in a camp in northern Syria and said she had not regrets in joining the terror group.

UK officials were non-committal over the potential repatriation of Ms Begum. Ben Wallace, the security minister, said she had the right to return to her country but insisted any members of ISIS would be interviewed and potentially prosecuted.

With consular assistance available to British citizens in Syria, Ms Begum would have to somehow make her way to Turkey or Iraq, added Mr Wallace.

"I'm not putting at risk British people's lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state," he told the BBC. The security minister said her lack of repentence was concerning.

The family members of ISIS fighters who hold a foreign passport are a thorny issue for their countries of origin. France recently revised its position and accepted to take back French nationals who joined ISIS to avoid them going unaccounted for as US troops pull out of Syria. Britain has so far rejected the idea of accepting any members of the extremist group on home turf.

"We can’t declare anyone stateless. But we’ve always said where people can be tried effectively where they are then we don’t feel that someone’s British nationality requires them to return to the United Kingdom...if they can face justice where they are and where crimes are alleged to be committed," a Whitehall source said.

One mooted idea is to give greater funding to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces so they can lead on the judicial process. The US and UK-backed SDF has complained it lacks the capacity to continue to hold the hundreds of foreign fighters in its detention centres.

15-year-old Amira Abase, left, Kadiza Sultana,16, centre, and Shamima Begum, 15, walk through Gatwick airport. AP Photo
15-year-old Amira Abase, left, Kadiza Sultana,16, centre, and Shamima Begum, 15, walk through Gatwick airport. AP Photo

The 19-year-old Ms Begum said life under the Caliphate had been a normal one. She talked about seeing "beheaded heads" in bins, but said the sight did not faze her.

"I don't regret coming here," she told The Times. Her desire to travel back to Britain stems from her concern for her child’s health, as her two other children had both died.

The first child, a girl, was buried in Baghuz a month ago at the age of one year and nine months. Her second child died three months ago of malnutrition at the age of eight months.

Ms Begum said one of her two school friends that had left the Bethnal Green Academy with her had died in a bombing, while the fate of the third girl is unclear.

Citing unnamed sources, Sky News reported there were a handful of British citizens at the same camp where Ms Begum was found. Their identities and number are not known.

"I'm scared that this baby is going to get sick in this camp," said Ms Begum. "That's why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of - health-wise, at least."

"I'll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child."

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday launched a final push to expel ISIS fighters from the sole remaining morsel of the proto-state they declared in 2014 across parts of Syria and Iraq.

The wives and children of ISIS fighters have fled the final, blood-soaked implosion of the Islamic State group's "caliphate".

____________

In pictures: Syrian civilians flee fighting in Bagouz

Updated: February 14, 2019 07:09 PM

SHARE

SHARE