Shamima Begum: British Isis member who fled to Syria 'has right to return to UK', security minister says

Pregnant teenager will be investigated by police for potential terrror offences if she returns

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 14 February 2019 11:32 GMT
Shamima Begum: British Isis member who fled to Syria 'has right to return to UK'

A British woman who joined Isis in Syria “has the right” to return to the UK despite admitting her involvement with the group, the security minister has said.

Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she fled to the “Islamic State” with two friends, said she had no regrets.

“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.”

Speaking from a refugee camp after fleeing Isis's last territory in eastern Syria, the pregnant 19-year-old said two of her young children had died and she wanted to return to the UK for the safety of her third child.

“As a British citizen she has a right to come home here,” Ben Wallace told Sky News. “We are obliged to make sure our citizens have rights, no matter who they are.”

The security minister said Ms Begum would be investigated by counterterror police and prosecuted if there was proof of any criminal offences.

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

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.”

He said that although the government had a "duty of care" towards the British children of Isis members, "we also have a duty towards UK citizens here to make sure we keep them safe".

Mr Wallace dismissed any suggestion of sending officials to meet Ms Begum, adding: "I'm not putting at risk British people's lives to go and look for terrorists in a failed state. Actions have consequences."

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

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

Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, America Abase, 15, schoolgirls at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, fled to Syria in February (Metropolitan Police/EPA)

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 charges could be proven against Ms Begum.

Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of UK counterterror policing, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that an “enormous amount of intelligence” had been gathered on known Isis members.

He said police had been collecting evidence from the battlefield, social media and interviewing returnees.

If Ms Begum does return to the UK, Sir Mark said authorities would also assess her mental health and “whether she is fit to bring up a child or whether it should be taken into care”.

This week new laws came into force that make it a terror offence to remain in an area designated by the government.

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

Ms Begum left the UK in February 2015 with two friends, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, and travelled to Syria to join a fourth schoolgirl from Bethnal Green Academy.

They each married an Isis foreign fighter but Ms Sultana was killed in an airstrike in Raqqa in May 2016. The other two young women may still be alive.

Ms Begum described her life as “mostly normal” apart from bombing. She described seeing a severed head in a bin but said she was unfazed because he was an “enemy of Islam” captured on the battlefield.

She criticised Isis for imprisoning and torturing its own members amid infighting, including her husband who has since surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

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