Shamima Begum: Government turns back on pregnant teenager as another Isis bride’s father pleads for return to UK

‘Actions have consequences,’ security minister says as government refuses to assist passage out of Syria

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 14 February 2019 21:26 GMT
Father of Isis schoolgirl Amira Hussen says she should be allowed back to UK

A pregnant teenage Isis bride will be left in Syria despite pleas to allow her and other young women back to the UK.

Ben Wallace, the security minister, said he would “not put British lives at risk” to help Shamima Begum return to Britain.

And government sources told The Independent it will not contact local authorities to negotiate her passage out of a camp where almost 40,000 Isis fighters’ family members are being held.

The father of a girl who left the UK with Ms Begum in 2015 said the young women had “made a mistake” but should be allowed to return home.

“Before teenagers do anything, they don’t contemplate [what will happen],” said Hussen Abase, whose daughter is Amira Abase. “They can be easily tricked… their age makes them vulnerable.”

Mr Abase told Sky News the girls could be “straightened out” by authorities in Britain where they would face prosecution and imprisonment.

Ms Abase and another girl from Bethnal Green Academy are believed to be alive in Syria, but their friend Kadiza Sultana was killed by an airstrike in 2016.

Debate has raged over whether the girls, who were just 14 and 15 when they left Britain, should be considered victims of Isis brainwashing.

Ms Begum said she was “unfazed” by the group’s brutality after seeing a severed head in a bin, and criticised Isis only for imprisoning its own fighters.

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

The pregnant 19-year-old, who recently fled Isis’s last pocket of territory, said two of her young children had died and she wanted to return to the UK for the safety of her third child.

Asked whether she should be viewed as a victim of Isis propaganda because she was a child when she joined the terrorist group, Mr Wallace replied: “We shouldn’t forget that the consequence of jihadi brides going was to feed the caliphate. They helped support it logistically and give it some credibility to other people back in the UK.”

Mr Wallace said that as a British citizen Ms Begum has a legal right to return but she would be investigated by counterterror police and prosecuted if there was proof of any criminal offences.

Missing schoolgirls on CCTV

He added that because there are no consular services in Syria, Ms Begum would have to journey to Turkey or Iraq for any assistance.

“I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state… actions have consequences,” Mr Wallace told the BBC.

“Some were groomed when they were young but are now adults – some of them are hardened fighters.”

It has proven difficult to prosecute hundreds of people who have already returned to the UK from Isis territories, and it remains unclear whether any charge could be proven against Ms Begum.

The director of public prosecutions, Max Hill QC, previously called the Bethnal Green girls “young and naive” and said their return should be permitted.

In his previous role as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in 2017, he said: “Even such teenagers would not escape prosecution if there is evidence that they have committed serious criminal offences – but if not, surely we should make an allowance for their return in circumstances where they were simply brainwashed as immature and vulnerable teenagers.”

The Crown Prosecution Service declined to comment on Ms Begum’s case.

The government has stripped many known Isis members with dual nationality of their British citizenship, but has been blocked under international law from making sole UK nationals stateless.

Ms Begum could be subjected to a temporary exclusion order, meaning any return to the UK would have to be organised in advance with authorities and subject to conditions, such as reporting to police and deradicalisation work.

If she reaches the UK authorities will also assess whether to take her child into care.

Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who represented the Bethnal Green girls’ families after they ran away, said relatives had “expressed the position that they want time and space to process what’s happened”.

This week new laws came into force that make it a criminal offence to remain in an area designated by the government to be a war zone or controlled by terrorist groups.

The law was created to make it easier to prosecute returned foreign fighters but it cannot be applied retrospectively, and no “designated areas” have yet been drawn up.

The government estimates that of around 900 people “of national security concern” who travelled from the UK to engage in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, 40 per cent have already returned and 20 per cent have died.

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