Shamima Begum, who fled her home at age 15 and left the UK to join ISIS, is now fighting for the right to return. However, the court revoked her citizenship on the grounds that she could pose a potential threat to the country’s security due to her membership in a terrorist organization.
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The story of Shamima Begum – a girl from the UK who joined ISIS
Shamima Begum, who is now 23 and living in a refugee camp in northern Syria, fled her home in 2015 with two classmates – like her, students at London’s Bethnal Green Academy school – to join the terrorist Islamic State. To the dismay of her parents and the local community, the teenager managed to reach Turkey and from there to Syrian territory, where she became the wife of ISIS fighter Yago Riedijk, a 27-year-old Dutchman. In the opinion of the Western world, the girl quickly became a symbol of the naivety and stupidity of the younger generation, fascinated by Islamic propaganda. The media in the West quickly began referring to her as the “Bride of ISIS.”
It was heard of again after the fall of the Islamic State. While in a refugee camp in Syria, the pregnant woman, in interviews with British journalists, asked to be allowed to return to the UK so she could give birth and raise a healthy baby. What was her story?
How did Shamima Begum end up in the Islamic State?
Shamima Begum (15 at the time of the escape), Kadiza Sultana (16) and Amira Abase (15) were daughters of immigrants, had Bengali ancestry, and attended a class where the majority were Muslims. It is not known exactly what the motivations of the girls who fled to Syria were. Shamima was said to have been radicalized by the influence of the Internet and the propaganda videos available on it – there are a lot of them online, they portray the caliphate as heaven on earth, even an Islamic Disneyland, and they are dynamic and visually appealing. She was the one who, inspired by an older girl from school who had previously traveled to Syria, probably persuaded her friends to go.
Three students from London’s Bethnal Green Academy made their way from London Gatwick to Istanbul airport, and from there the journey through Turkey to Syria. Getting into areas then controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State was made possible by Muhammad Rashid – a member of a large and well-organized smuggling network – who claims he did so to pass information to the Canadian embassy in Jordan (cooperation was confirmed by a Jordanian intelligence official). Rashid was arrested in Turkey shortly after Shamima Begum arrived in Syria.
Of course, the disappearance of the girls was not only a shock to the public, but also a huge drama for their parents and relatives, who, experiencing a kind of mourning, were treated as suspected terrorists and watched by the services. BBC television featured a poignant interview with Amira Abase’s father, who is a moderate Muslim and insists that he came to Britain precisely because he wanted freedom and a good education for his children. She recounts that Amira cheered for Chelsea, enjoyed painting her nails, dressing up and shopping. She was a diligent student and had a chance to attend a good college. She and Sultana Kadiza, however, died a few years later during bombings in Syria.
ISIS bride has no regrets about defecting to Islamic State
Shamima Begum, in her first interview with Anthony Lloyd, a war correspondent working for the British newspaper The Times, stressed that she did not regret going to the Islamic State, and that the sight of falling heads did not impress her because they were the heads of “enemies of Islam.” However, the girl wanted to return to the UK due to her advanced pregnancy and her desire to ensure good conditions for her offspring, as she had lost two previous children due to malnutrition. Unfortunately, two days after giving this interview, Shamima Begum gave birth to a son, who also died shortly thereafter – the cause was pneumonia. In subsequent interviews, however, she changed her tone and apologized to the British people, assuring them that she is not an evil person and does not support acts of terror.
The role played by the girl during her stay in the Islamic State is very controversial. Shamima Begum says she was simply the devoted wife of an Islamic militant and played no active role in the caliphate. This is contradicted by reports from The Telegraph. The daily cites two independent sources – Sound and Picture, a group of anti-regime activists who lived under ISIS rule, and information gathered by Western intelligence.
Shamima Begum in ISIS – what was life like in the caliphate?
According to them, upon her arrival in Syria, Shamima Begum was sent to a guest house for single women in Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the caliphate, where the girl was married to a Riedijk. She was then to take part in religious and military training at the al-Tala’ia camp south of the Euphrates River. Later, she and her fellow Londoners joined Al-Hisby, a notoriously brutal customs police force that enforced strict religious precepts. The vast majority of women working in Al-Hisba did so of their own free will, as they could thus count on a high social position.
Many foreign women joined Al-Hisba, some of them very cruel. Shamima Begum was seen on the streets carrying a Kalashnikov and shouting at women who broke the dress code. It is also known that she tried to recruit other girls from Europe, but there is no evidence that she directly participated in any terrorist activities.
Shamima Begum has lost her British citizenship. Controversy
In 2019, Shamima Begum was stripped of her British citizenship to prevent her from returning to the country. Interior Ministry chief Sahid Jahid has been publicly declaring ever since the case came to light that he would do everything to block the girl’s return to the country, as “his priority is the security of the UK.” This has stirred up a huge controversy.
Prosecutors argue that even if Shamima Bagum has no bad intentions, allowing her to return would set a dangerous precedent. Shamima Begum’s defenders stress that the girl left the UK at a very young age, so it is to be suspected that she may not have been fully aware of the consequences of her act, and may have fallen victim to child kidnappers. Public opinion, however, is unlikely to favor the woman, and comments under articles about her are very unfavorable, often vulgar. Some express the opinion that she should return to the country and answer to the court.
For the substance of the issue, however, the key question is whether the verdict stripping Shamima Begum of her citizenship was made in accordance with British and international law – as one cannot legally strip citizenship from a person who would become stateless as a result. UK Home Minister Sajid Javid said Shamima Begum could apply for Bangladeshi citizenship because the girl’s father came from that country. Bangladeshi authorities, however, denied this.
London Mayor Sadiq Kchan has criticized the decision to strip Shamima Bagum of her citizenship, as he believes it could have consequences for millions of Britons of foreign descent who may fear being treated as “second-class citizens.”
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