Bethnal Green schoolgirl who fled to Syria and joined IS is pregnant and ‘wants to come home’
- Credit: MPS
A schoolgirl from Bethnal Green who left Britain as a 15-year-old to join the Islamic State group is now heavily pregnant and wants to come home.
Shamima Begum was tracked down by The Times to a refugee camp in northern Syria where she is now 19-years-old, the bride of an Islamic State fighter, nine months pregnant and has had two infant children who are dead. Her husband is in captivity.
Stating that “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.”
She also told the paper: “The caliphate is over.
“There was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory. I know what everyone at home thinks of me as I have read all that was written about me online. 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.”
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She was one of three schoolgirls - along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase - from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families in February 2015 to join a fourth Bethnal Green schoolgirl in Syria who had left London they year before. They are believed to have each married an Isis foreign fighter.
Ms Sultana was 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 Miss Abase, and the other schoolgirl who left Britain in 2014, may still be alive.
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When she arrived, Miss Begum was put in a house where jihadist brides-to-be waited to be married, she said.
Ms Begum was married 10 days after arriving in Raqqa in 2015 to a Dutchman who had converted to Islam. She claims her husband was later arrested, charged with spying and tortured.
She left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a girl aged a year and nine months old and a three-month-old boy, both died in the recent months. Her son had an unknown illness worsened by malnutrition, The Times said.
She said she had a “mostly” a “normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff”.
She told the paper: “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.”
The family went to Baghuz and she left there two weeks ago along a three-mile long corridor east of the town. Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and she has not seen him since, according to The Times.
The Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases, although anyone who returns to the UK after travelling to IS territory faces criminal investigation and stricter laws are now in place.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “The UK advises against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq. Anyone who does travel to these areas, for whatever reason, is putting themselves in considerable danger.
“Everyone who returns from taking part in the conflict in Syria or Iraq must expect to be investigated by the police to determine if they have committed criminal offences, and to ensure that they do not pose a threat to our national security.
“There are a range of terrorism offences where individuals can be convicted for crimes committed overseas and we can also use Temporary Exclusion Orders to control an individuals’ return to the UK.”
He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would not put British officials’ lives at risk to rescue people like Ms Begum from Syria.
He said: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state - there’s consular services elsewhere in the region and the strong message this Government has given for many years is that actions have consequences.”
Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who was instructed by the Bethnal Green girls’ families after they ran away, said he was “glad (Ms Begum) is alive and safe”.
He said the authorities should be reminded of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe’s position at the time of their disappearance.
“The position of the Metropolitan Police was that they should be treated as victims, so long as they hadn’t committed any further offences while they are out there,” he said.
Mr Akunjee said he had spoken to the girls’ families, who had “expressed the position that they want time and space to process what’s happened”.