Shamima Begum was 15 when she flew out of Gatwick Airport with her two classmates Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase. They traveled to Syria during the half-term break from the Bethnal Green Academy in February 2015. The young women, all from the Bethnal Green Academy in east London, were to join another classmate who had traveled to Syria months earlier.
The Times of London reported in mid-February that Begum was nine months pregnant and that she wanted to come home to have her child.
On the day the caliphate suffered a mortal blow, the teenage London bride of an Islamic State fighter lifted her veil. Her two infant children were dead; her husband in captivity. Nineteen years old, nine months pregnant, weak and exhausted from her escape across the desert, she nevertheless looked calm and spoke with a collected voice.
Begum told The Times she had no regrets about traveling to Syria but told the paper that “the caliphate is over.”
“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” she said. “And I don’t regret coming here.”
Shamima Begum married Yago Riedijk, a Dutch convert and Isis fighter, days after arriving in the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2015.
Her husband was later accused of spying on the group and jailed. He was tortured by his captors, but later released from prison.
“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. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.”
“In the end, I just could not endure any more,” she said, although she nonetheless appeared supportive of Isis. “I just couldn’t take it. 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.”
Although she knew “what everyone at home thinks of me as I have read all that was written about me online”, she said: “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 teenager’s sister Renu told ITV News that she was happy to hear that her sister was alive.
“I’m so relieved that my sister has been found, safe and sound,” she said. “We are aware that she has been trying to get out. We lost contact with her for the longest of time. We are happy to know that she is okay.”
Kadiza Sultana was however, reported to have been killed in an airstrike on Raqqa in May 2016, while Ms Begum has recently heard second-hand from other people that Ms Abase, and the other schoolgirl who left Britain in 2014, may still be alive.
UK Citizen Issue
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, wrote to her family informing them he had made an order revoking her citizenship. He said the fact Begum’s parents are of Bangladeshi heritage means she can apply for citizenship of that country – though Begum says she has never been there.
She said of the letter: “It’s kind of heart-breaking to read. My family made it sound like it would be a lot easier for me to come back to the UK when I was speaking to them in Baghouz. It’s kind of hard to swallow.
“I heard that other people are being sent back to Britain so I don’t know why my case is any different to other people, or is it just because I was on the news four years ago?” she said.
“Another option I might try with my family is my husband is from Holland and he has family in Holland. Maybe I can ask for citizenship in Holland. If he gets sent back to prison in Holland I can just wait for him while he is in prison.”
Under the 1981 British Nationality Act, a person can be deprived of their citizenship if the home secretary is satisfied it would be “conducive to the public good” and they would not become stateless as a result.
Shamima Begum said she travelled to Syria with her sister’s UK passport but it was taken from her when she crossed the border.
She is believed to be of Bangladeshi heritage but when asked by the BBC, she said did not have a Bangladesh passport and had never been to the country.
On the question of Ms Begum’s son, a child born to a British parent before they are deprived of their citizenship would still be considered British.
While it would theoretically be possible for the UK to then remove citizenship from the child, officials would need to balance their rights against any potential threat they posed.
Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that if Shamima Begum’s mother was a Bangladeshi national – as is believed to be the case – under Bangladesh law Begum would be too.
Dal Babu, a former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent and friend of Ms Begum’s family, said they were “very surprised” by what seemed to be a “kneejerk reaction” by the Home Office.
Stressing that Ms Begum had never been to Bangladesh, Mr Babu said: “It seems to be a bizarre decision and I’m not entirely sure how that will stand up legally.”
Conservative MP George Freeman said the move was a “mistake” that would set a “dangerous precedent”.
Shamima Begum has said she does not regret travelling to Syria, however, she said she did not agree with everything the IS group had done.
She told the BBC she was “shocked” by the 2017 Manchester Arena attack – which killed 22 people and was claimed by IS – but she also compared it to military assaults on IS strongholds, saying it was “retaliation”.
Shamima Begum has the right to appeal the Home Office’s decision
According to Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg, Ms Begum can appeal to a court called the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
“There have been cases that have gone through and people have been able to show that they would be entitled to foreign nationality, indeed Bangladeshi nationality,” he said.
“In that case they can’t be deprived of their British citizenship so we can expect a battle to come.”
- Shamima Begum Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / CNN / Independent / BBC)