IS runaway teen could be prosecuted in UK

Shamima Begum

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PA

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Ms Begum was 15 when she left the UK in 2015

A British woman who ran away to Syria as a schoolgirl to join the Islamic State group has been told she could face prosecution if she returns home.

Shamima Begum, now 19 and pregnant, told the Times she had no regrets but wanted to have her baby in the UK.

She said she had heard that Amira Abase, one of the two girls she fled to Syria with, might still be alive.

Her father, Abase Hussen, broke down on hearing the news and appealed to the UK government to bring both women home.

He said that Ms Begum’s comments had given his family hope about Ms Abase.

In her interview with the newspaper, Ms Begum, who married an IS fighter, showed little remorse for her involvement with the terror group, saying she was not fazed by seeing “beheaded heads” in bins.

“I don’t regret coming here,” she told Times journalist Anthony Loyd, who found her in the camp.

“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago.”

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Media captionAnthony Loyd of the Times describes how he found Shamima Begum in a Syrian refugee camp

“The caliphate is over. There was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory,” she said.

“I just want to come home to have my child. I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”

Earlier, security minister Ben Wallace told the BBC he would not risk any British officials’ safety trying to bring back Ms Begum, who is currently in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

But Mr Wallace said any Britons who had gone to Syria to engage or support terrorist activities should be prepared to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted if they came back to the UK.

He said there was no consular assistance in Syria and insisted he would not attempt to rescue Ms Begum.

“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.

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Let the teenagers into the UK, Abase Hussen pleads in a BBC interview

However, the father of Ms Abase believes that the UK should help bring back both his daughter and Ms Begum.

Abase Hussen told the BBC that his daughter had not spoken to him since she sent some texts two years ago, telling him not to worry about her.

The Times interview “gives us some kind of positive hope for the family,” he said. “We were just waiting for something to come out.”

Ms Begum and Ms Abase, both 15, along with Kadiza Sultana, 16, were pupils at Bethnal Green Academy when they left the UK in February 2015.

The schoolfriends flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day.

They later crossed the border into Syria.

On arriving in Raqqa, Ms Begum stayed at a house with other newly-arrived brides-to-be.

“I applied to marry an English-speaking fighter between 20 and 25 years old,” she said.

Ten days later she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam – and has been with him since then.

The couple escaped from Baghuz – IS’s last territory in eastern Syria – two weeks ago.

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Met Police

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Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) in photos issued by police

Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, and she is now one of 39,000 people in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Asked whether living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Ms Begum said: “Yes, it did.

“It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos – it’s a normal life.

“Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that…”

She said that seeing her first “severed head” in a bin “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,” she said.

Will Shamima Begum be allowed to return to the UK?

Shamima Begum was legally a child when she pinned her colours to the Islamic State mast.

And if she 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.

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.

Another British jihadi bride, Tareena Shakil, who got out of the war zone with her child, lied to the security services on her return and was jailed for membership of a terrorist group.

If Ms Begum got out of the country, that is the kind of charge she could face – along with encouraging or supporting terrorism.

But that’s a long way off. Assuming she made it to an airport, the UK could temporarily ban her from returning until she agreed to be investigated, monitored and deradicalised.

Social services would also certainly step in to consider whether her child should be removed to protect him or her from radicalisation.

In her interview, Ms Begum talked about Kadiza Sultana who accompanied her to Syria.

She said her school friend had died in a bombing on a house where there was “some secret stuff going on” underground.

“I never thought it would happen. Because I always thought if we got killed, we’d get killed together,” she added.

A lawyer for Ms Sultana’s family said in 2016 that she was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

‘Overprotective’

Ms Begum said losing her two children came as a shock. “It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard.”

Her daughter died at the age of one year and nine months and was buried in Baghuz a month ago.

Her second child died three months ago at just eight months old of an illness compounded by malnutrition, the Times reports.

She said she took him to a hospital but there were no drugs and not enough staff.

She said she was now “really overprotective” of her unborn child and was scared it would become ill if she stayed in the refugee camp.

“That’s why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of – health-wise, at least,” she said.

Her family back in the UK told lawyer Tasnime Akunjee they wanted “time and space to process what’s happened”.

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Media captionWe asked people in Bethnal Green, where Shamima Begum used to go to school, whether the teenager should be allowed back to the UK

Dal Babu, a former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent, said it should be remembered that Ms Begum was groomed as a child to become a radicalised woman and was a “victim of brainwashing”.

Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said Ms Begum would have to be accepted back into the UK if she had not become a national of any other country.

Under international law, it is not possible to render a person stateless.

He said he thought it was unlikely she would be allowed to return quickly and expected that, if tried for any offences, she would be tried as an adult, he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett.

Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who led the Prevent terrorism prevention programme at the time the girls ran away, said he could understand why the government was “not particularly interested” in facilitating her return.

“If the woman was showing complete remorse, it would be completely different,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

It would cost a “vast amount of money” and the biggest challenge would be for local police to keep her safe and ensure she did not become a lightning rod for both right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists, he added.

IS has lost control of most of the territory it overran, including its strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.

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