An east London schoolgirl who left the UK in 2015 to join Islamic State has been tracked down in Syria where she said has no regrets about joining the group, but now wants to come home as she is nine months pregnant. Shamima Begum, 19, said she fled the jihadists’ last remaining enclave in Baghuz,…
An east London schoolgirlwho left the UK in 2015 to join Islamic Statehas been tracked down in Syria where she said has no regrets about joining the group, but now wants to come home as she is nine months pregnant.
Shamima Begum, 19, said she fled the jihadists’ last remaining enclave in Baghuz, easternSyria, as she was tired of life on a battlefield and feared for her unborn child after her two other children died.
“I was weak,” she told the Times from the al-Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria. “I could not endure the suffering and hardship that staying on the battlefield involved. But I was also frightened that the child I am about to give birth to would die like my other children if I stayed on. So I fled the caliphate. Now all I want to do is come home to Britain.”
She and two of her fellow Bethnal Green academy pupils, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, made headlines when they flew from Gatwick to Turkey in February 2015, then entered Syria. Begum and Abase were both 15, while Sultana was 16. They had told their parents they were simply going out for the day.
The Guardian understands the Begum family believe the woman identified in the Syrian camp is Shamima.
Begum told the Times she initially settled in Raqqa where she married a Dutch convert after three weeks. She said life there alternated between normality and atrocity, and added that the sight of a “beheaded head” in a bin had not fazed her.
“Mostly it was a normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff,” she said. “But when I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam.”
She said Sultana and Abase, along with another young woman, Sharmeena Begum, also from Bethnal Green –who travelled to Syria two monthsbefore the trio and is not a relative of Begum’s – hadalso married foreign Isis fighters.
Sultanawas reported to have diedin 2016 in an airstrike on Raqqa, and Begum confirmed this in the interview.
She gave a conflicting account of the so-called caliphate. “There was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory,” she said. However, she added: “I don’t regret coming here.”
Begum said her family had moved down the Euphrates valley as Isis retreated, eventually ending up in its final stronghold of Baghuz. But after the deaths of her one-year-old daughter and three-month-old son in recent months from illness and malnutrition she decided to flee.
She left Baghuz two weeks ago along a three-mile long corridor east of Baghuz. Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces and she has not seen him since, according to the Times.
She said Sharmeena Begum and Abase were believed to have remained in Isis’s final stronghold. “I heard from other women only two weeks ago that the two were still alive in Baghuz,” Shamima Begum said. “But with all the bombing, I am not sure whether they have survived.
“They were strong … I respect their decision. They urged patience and endurance in the caliphate and chose to stay behind in Baghuz. They would be ashamed of me if they survived the bombing and battle to learn that I had left.”
She added: “But I just want to come home to have my child. That’s all I want right now. I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”
The solicitor who represented Shamima Begum’s family said she should be allowed to return to Britain and that counter-terrorism officials should consider treating her as a victim.
Lawyer Tasnime Akunjee said: “I am really grateful she is alive. Bernard Hogan-Howe when he was Metropolitan police commissioner saidthe girls should be treated as victims as long as no evidence emerges that they committed offences. I would hope that is honoured.
“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.”
The issue of Britons who fled to Isis-controlled territory is a nightmare for the UK authorities. For those who were engaged in fighting and terrorism, officials are clear they do not wish them to return.
However, the issue of their dependents and partners is a trickier issue. Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command is understood to have examined whether Shamima Begum engaged in activity that makes her a danger to British national security or would constitute an offence that she could be charged with in the UK.
Shamima Begum’s emergence, pregnant with her third child, poses a dilemma for the Foreign Office first as to whether she could be offered consular assistance, and possibly helped out of the camp the Times found her in.
Ultimately the home secretary, Sajid Javid, would decide whether she should be allowed back to the UK, were Begum free to do so.
MI5 and MI6, the British intelligence agencies, as well as counter-terrorism police, will assess what danger she may pose given her decision to chose to leave the UK and to join Isis.