Shamima Begum has asked the British people for forgiveness, saying in a TV interview this morning (15 September) that the so-called Islamic State’s (Isis) killing of innocent people is “unjustifiable”.
The 22-year-old from east London has had her British citizenship revoked by the Home Office on national security grounds, and is currently living in a camp in Syria.
She left the UK at the age of 15 as one of three schoolgirls who, in 2015, travelled together to Syria to join Isis. The British government has said that she will not be allowed to return to the UK.
Begum told ITV’s Good Morning Britain in a live interview: “I know it’s very hard for the British people to try and forgive me because they have lived in fear of Isis and lost loved ones because of Isis, but I also have lived in fear of Isis and I also lost loved ones because of Isis, so I can sympathise with them in that way.
“I know it is very hard for them to forgive me but I say from the bottom of my heart that I am so sorry if I ever offended anyone by coming here, if I ever offended anyone by the things I said.”
Begum, who appeared to distance herself from her former life in Isis, said she came to Syria expecting simply to get married, have children and “live a pure, Islamic life”.
She appeared in the interview wearing a Nike baseball cap, grey vest, her hair loose and painted nails.
Begum said: “The reason I came to Syria was not for violent reasons ... At the time I did not know it [Isis] was a death cult, I thought it was an Islamic community I was joining.
“I was being fed a lot of information on the internet by people.”
She said she thought she was “groomed and taken advantage of and manipulated into” travelling to Syria.
Begum also denied being directly involved in terrorist activity.
It comes after The Daily Telegraph reported that Begum was an “enforcer” in Isis’s “morality police”, and tried to recruit other young women to join the group.
An anti-Isis activist told The Independent that there are separate allegations of Begum stitching suicide bombers into explosive vests so they “could not be removed without detonating”.
Begum told the presenters of GMB: “I am willing to go to court and face the people who made these claims and refute these claims, because I know I did nothing in IS but be a mother and a wife.
“These claims are being made to make me look worse because the government do not have anything on me.
“There is no evidence because nothing ever happened.”
She added: “I would rather die than go back to IS.”
Begum also apologised to anyone who has been affected by Isis and the terror group's actions.
She said: “Of course I am completely sorry for anyone that has been affected by Isis.
“In no way do I agree with what they did – I don’t – I’m not trying to justify what they did, it’s not justifiable to kill innocent people in the name of religion.”
Begum said she regretted her actions and apologised for the comments she previously made about the Manchester Arena bombing.
In 2017, 22 victims died and more than 1,000 were injured after an attacker detonated a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert.
After she was found by a BBC journalist in a camp in Syria in 2019, she claimed – when asked about the Manchester bombing – that it was wrong to kill innocent people, but that Isis considered it justified as retaliation for coalition bombing of Isis-held areas.
In that interview, she had also said that she did not regret joining Isis.
But now, in the new interview, she said: “I do not believe that one evil justifies another evil. I don’t think that women and children should be killed for other people’s motives and for other people’s agendas.”
She added: “I did not know that people were killed, I did not know that women and children were hurt because of it.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid hit back at Begum’s claims that she played no part in Isis terrorism.
Earlier, Begum said she was “pretty sure he [Javid] would change his mind about my citizenship” if the pair met face to face.
Mr Javid said the decision to revoke her citizenship is “absolutely right, but also legally correct and the right one to protect the British people”.
Referring to his decision while home secretary to strip her of her citizenship, he said: “I won’t go into details of the case, but what I will say is that you certainly haven’t seen what I saw.”
He added: “If you did know what I knew, because you are sensible, responsible people, you would have made exactly the same decision – of that I have no doubt.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies