Should Isis jihadi brides be allowed back to the UK?

Former London schoolgirl Shamima Begum wants to return after four years with Islamic State

Three British schoolgirls at Gatwick Airport
Shamima Begum and two schoolmates on CCTV at Gatwick Airport in 2015 
(Image credit: Metropolitan Police)

One of three former schoolgirls who made headlines when they fled Britain in 2015 to join Islamic State has asked to return home - but insists she has no regrets.

Shamima Begum was just 15 when she ran away from her east London home to travel to Syria and marry an Isis fighter. She is now 19, nine months’ pregnant and living in a Syrian refugee camp, having left Baghuz - the last Syrian territory held by the terrorist group - two weeks ago, she told The Times.

“I don’t regret coming here,” she said. “I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago.”

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However, she also told the newspaper: “The caliphate is over. There was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory. I know what everyone at home thinks of me as I have read all that was written about me online.

“But I just want to come home to have my child. That’s all I want right now. I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”

The heavily pregnant teenager claims to have had two other children, but says both died from sickness and malnutrition.

She and her Bethnal Green Academy classmates Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey and then entered Syria four years ago. Begum says that they all married foreign Isis fighters and that she initially settled in Raqqa, where she had a “mostly normal life” apart from “every now and then bombing and stuff”.

She added: “But when I saw my first severed head in a bin, it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.”

Begum and her family later moved to Baghuz, but decided to flee as fighting intensified, for the sake of her unborn child. Her husband, a Dutch man who had converted to Islam, was captured by Syrian fighters allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces as they left and she had not seen him since.

The case “will pose a dilemma for the Foreign Office and the home secretary, Sajid Javid, who would have to decide whether Begum should be allowed back to the UK”, says The Guardian.

Tasnime Akunjee, a solicitor who represented the three schoolgirls’ families after they ran away, said Begum should be viewed as a victim - just as she and her friends were characterised by Scotland Yard shortly after they ran away.

Addressing the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in March 2015, the Metropolitan Police’s then head of counterterrorism, Sir Mark Rowley, said:“We have no evidence that these three girls are responsible for any terrorist offences. They have no reason to fear, if nothing else comes to light, that we will treat them as terrorists.”

His assessment “is likely to still be the official position unless the British authorities have evidence that Shamima Begum has been involved in terrorism or encouraging terrorism”, says The Times’ Richard Ford.

The Home Office has said it does not comment on individual cases, but added that anyone who returns to the UK after travelling to Islamic State territory faced criminal investigation and that stricter laws are now in place.

Security Minister Ben Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state - there’s consular services elsewhere in the region and the strong message this government has given for many years is that actions have consequences.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, told talkRADIO he had “compassion” for Begum, but said the UK could not “welcome” her back.

“I'm against her coming back because you have to give a signal to people that if you go off to join extreme Islamist terrorist groups that there is no return,” Halfon said.

Legally, if Begum were still under 18 years old, the Government “would have a duty to take her and her unborn child’s ‘best interests’ into account in deciding what to do next”, says the BBC’s Dominic Casciani.

But “she's now an apparently unrepentant adult - and that means she would have to account for her decisions, even if her journey is a story of grooming and abuse”, he continues.

In a similar case, another jihadi bride, Tareena Shakil, who returned from Syria with her two-year-old child, was convicted of terrorism offences in 2016.

Sentencing Shakil to six years in prison, Justice Melbourne Inman said that she had shown no remorse and had known her son’s future would ultimately be “as an Isis fighter”.

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