UK schoolgirl Shamima Begum who fled to join Islamic State ‘wants to return home to England’
Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum, left to right, at Gatwick Airport. (Metropolitan Police)
One of three teenage schoolgirls who fled the UK to join Islamic State (IS) in Syria says she has no regrets about joining the group, but wants to return home to England to give birth to her baby.
- Shamima Begum fled the UK for Syria in 2015 with two of her fellow schoolmates
- The 19-year-old said at least one of the teens she travelled with is now dead
- Ms Begum said her schoolmates “would be ashamed of [her]” decision to leave Syria
Shamima Begum, now 19 years old, flew to Turkey from London’s Gatwick Airport along with Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, in February 2015, after the group told their parents they were going out for the day.
After touching down in Turkey, the group crossed the border into Syria.
All three of the girls had attended Bethnal Green Academy, a school in east London.
It is believed they followed a classmate who left a few months earlier, prompting questions about how authorities failed to prevent the girls from leaving the country.
Ms Begum, who was tracked down in a refugee camp in Syria by The Times, told the publication she fled the last IS enclave in Baghuz, eastern Syria, two weeks ago, as she had tired of life on the battlefield and feared for her unborn child’s safety.
The 19-year-old, who is nine months pregnant, said she had two other children who both died.
After arriving in Raqqa in 2015, the trio of schoolgirls stayed at a house with other IS brides-to-be, Ms Begum told The Times.
Just 10 days later, the then-15-year-old married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam.
She said Ms Sultana and Ms Abase also married foreign IS fighters around the same time.
She told The Times that life with IS alternated between the everyday and extreme horrors, but insisted witnessing shocking sights did not affect her: “Mostly it was a normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff.”
“When I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t phase me at all.”
“It was from a captured fighter seized on a battlefield, an enemy of Islam.”
After claiming she “[does not] regret coming [to Syria]”, Ms Begum said the deaths of her one-year-old daughter and three-month-old son from malnutrition and illness in recent months prompted her to flee the war-torn country with her husband.
According to The Times, the pair escaped IS and started off on a journey along a three-mile corridor to the east of Baghuz.
While travelling, Ms Begum said her husband was forced to surrender to a group of Syrian fighters working with the Syrian Democratic Forces. She claimed not to have seen him since.
Asked about the fellow Bethnal Green Academy students she fled the UK with, the teenager said Ms Sultana died in a bombing, and added she did not know the fate of Ms Abase, though she believed she remained in the final IS stronghold.
Speaking of the IS brides who stayed behind, she told The Times: “They were strong… I respect their decision”.
“They urged patience and endurance in the caliphate and chose to stay behind in Baghuz,” she said.
“They would be ashamed of me if they survived the bombing and battle to learn that I had left.”
How the UK is dealing with returned IS brides
Speaking to The Guardian in the wake of the news Ms Begum was still alive, a lawyer for the teen’s family said she should be able to return to the UK.
Suggesting counter-terrorism officials should consider affording her victim status, lawyer Tasnime Akunjee told the publication: “I am really grateful she is alive”.
“She has suffered trauma and I hope that she can come back and put this behind her. Anyone who has lost two children will need a lot of help,” she said.
While officials are clear they do not wish those who fled the UK to fight for IS to return home, the question of what should happen to IS brides and their dependents is not as distinct.
Scotland Yard, the headquarters for the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service, was reported to have investigated whether Ms Begum engaged in activity that could make her a danger to the country, or that she could be charged with.
Independent of this, Home Secretary Sajid Javid was expected to weigh in on whether Ms Begum should have the right to return to the UK, along with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 and counter-terrorism police, who were anticipated to conduct further investigations into potential dangers Ms Begum could pose to the UK.
If UK officials decide to treat Ms Begum as a victim, she could be eligible for consular assistance and potentially removed from the Syrian refugee camp she was found in, The Guardian reported.