Shamima Begum, one of the three schoolgirls who left London to join so-called ISIS in 2015, has admitted the she has no regrets about joining the group, but now wants to return to the UK.
In an interview with The Times, the 19-year-old described finding heads in bins and losing two children to illness during her time with the group. Begum has given birth to her third child and wishes to return to the UK so that her child will not share the fate of her previous children. Begum also described how one of the other girls she travelled with was killed in an air strike by coalition forces. The whereabouts and wellbeing of the third girl is still unknown.
Begum married a 27-year-old Dutch militant shortly after arriving in Syria and has said that she enjoyed ‘a normal life’ under the caliphate. She explained that finding decapitated heads in a bin ‘did not faze her’ because it came from ‘an enemy of Islam.’ Comments like this and an admission that she does not regret travelling to Syria to join the group have cast doubts on whether she should be allowed to re-enter the UK.
While she was a child when she travelled to Syria, she is now an adult, and her lack of repentance is unlikely to endear her to the authorities. While the government may indeed decide that she can return to the UK, she will likely be closely monitored and faces having her child taken away by Social Services. Begum could face charges of joining a terrorist group, as well as encouraging and supporting terrorist acts. The government will likely endeavour to make an example of her, seeking to discourage further acts of this nature.
Ben Wallace, the Minister of State for Security, has warned that anyone returning from Syria who was there in connection with the so-called Islamic State ‘should be prepared to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.’ The Government have also ruled out attempting to help Begum return to the UK, with Wallace stating, ‘I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.’
With fears that the unrepentant teen could galvanise both Islamic extremists and right-wing extremists, it would also pose a challenge for the police to keep Begum safe in the event that she did return to the UK. Sir Peter Fahy, the former head of the controversial PREVENT programme, has suggested that the Government is ‘not particularly interested’ in facilitating the return of Begum or any other Briton from the former territory of so-called ISIS. And with a lack of willingness by the Government to do anything to help Begum and those like her, it is difficult to see how those leaving the Middle East will ever be welcome back in the UK if they even find a way to return.