Shamima Begum

Then-15-year-old Shamima Begum and two friends left their homes in the Bethnal Green section of London in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria. She went on to marry a Dutch foreign fighter and give birth to three children. In February 2019, Begum told British media that she wanted to return home, but the British government soon after revoked her citizenship.Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/; “Shamima Begum: What is her legal status?” BBC News, February 21, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47310206. Begum has claimed that she wants forgiveness and now supports British values.“Shamima Begum: ‘I didn’t want to be IS poster girl,’” BBC News, February 18, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47276572. Begum is engaged in a legal battle to return to England and contest the removal of her citizenship.“Shamima Begum can return to UK to fight for citizenship, Court of Appeal rules,” BBC News, July 16, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53427197. In February 2021, the British Supreme Court upheld a decision to bar Begum from returning to the country to participate in her appeal as she remains a security risk.Michael Holden, “Runaway schoolgirl who joined IS cannot return to Britain, top court says,” Reuters, February 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AQ17W.

On February 17, 2015, Begum used her then-17-year-old sister’s passport to board a flight to Turkey with school friends Amira Abase and Khadiza Sultana.“Syria girls: Shamima Begum used older sister’s passport,” BBC News, February 23, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-3158173. Security camera footage at London’s Gatwick Airport recorded the trio boarding Turkish Airlines Flight 1966 to Istanbul. Once there, they reportedly waited 18 hours for a bus to take them over the border into Syria. They reportedly arrived in Syria on February 20 and made their way to Raqqa, ISIS’s declared capital.Tania Steere, “Three British jihadi school girls ‘now living in IS stronghold’: Trio said to be in Raqqa and under control of the Islamic State,” Daily Mail (London), March 8, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2985581/Three-British-jihadi-school-girls-living-stronghold-Trio-said-Raqqa-control-Islamic-State.html; Katrin Bennhold, “Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Girls,” New York Times, August 17, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/world/europe/jihad-and-girl-power-how-isis-lured-3-london-teenagers.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=1. Under the belief that their daughter wanted to help those suffering in Syria, Begum’s parents issued a plea that month for their daughter to return: “You can help from home. You don’t have to put yourself in danger.”Holly Yan and Nima Elbagir, “Authorities scramble to find teen girls before they join ISIS,” CNN, February 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/23/europe/uk-syria-missing-girls/.

Begum had been a student at Bethnal Green Academy, a private school she attended with Sultana and Abase. In December 2014, fellow Bethnal Green student and friend Sharmeena Begum (no relation) left London to join ISIS in Syria. On February 5, 2015, British police sought to question Shamima Begum, Abase, and Sultana about Sharmeena’s whereabouts. The police delivered letters to the girls requesting their parents’ permission to give official statements, but the letters never reached the girls’ parents. Shamima Begum, Abase, and Sultana left almost two weeks later.Vikram Dodd and Aisha Gani, “Police failed us, say families of girls feared to have gone to Syria,” Guardian (London), March 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/06/syria-bound-girls-hid-police-letter-families; Omar Wahid, “Meet the schoolgirl grooming Britain’s teens to become jihadi brides,” Al Bawaba, August 2, 2015, http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/meet-schoolgirl-grooming-britains-teens-become-jihadi-brides-725742. Shamima Begum’s sister, Renu, said she hoped her sister had gone to Syria to retrieve Sharmeena Begum.“Syria girls: Shamima Begum used older sister’s passport,” BBC News, February 23, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31581739.

Once in Syria, Begum told her family through Instagram that she had married a Dutch foreign fighter named Yago Riedjik. All three girls reportedly married at the same time. Sultana married a Canadian foreign fighter, while Abase married Australian foreign fighter Abdullah Elmir.Flora Drury, “All THREE London schoolgirls lured to Syria by ISIS have now become jihadi brides after picking their favourites out of a catalogue of western men - as family reveal they keep in touch via Instagram,” Daily Mail (London), August 17, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3201290/All-THREE-London-schoolgirls-lured-Syria-ISIS-jihadi-brides-picking-favourites-catalogue-western-men-family-reveal-touch-Instagram.html; Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/. Begum gave birth to three children, two of whom died from various illnesses. After the death of her second child in January 2019 and while pregnant with her third, Begum claimed she decided to leave what was left of ISIS’s caliphate.Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/.

Renu Begum has described her sister as an “A-star student,” but has also claimed she is not adventurous: “She doesn’t like to go by herself to Bethnal Green to buy a pint of milk.”Ben Ferguson and Ben Bryant, “London Schoolgirl Who Fled to the Islamic State ‘Didn’t Know How to Pray,’” Vice, News, August 7, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/london-schoolgirl-who-fled-to-the-islamic-state-didnt-know-how-to-pray. She also described Begum as not particularly religious: “She started wearing a scarf in year 10 [age 14-15] because my mum asked her to, but she didn’t have a problem wearing it because all her friends wore it….”Ben Ferguson and Ben Bryant, “London Schoolgirl Who Fled to the Islamic State ‘Didn’t Know How to Pray,’” Vice, News, August 7, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/london-schoolgirl-who-fled-to-the-islamic-state-didnt-know-how-to-pray. While searching Begum’s personal items for evidence of radicalization, her family found only a piece of paper explaining how to pray.Ben Ferguson and Ben Bryant, “London Schoolgirl Who Fled to the Islamic State ‘Didn’t Know How to Pray,’” Vice, News, August 7, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/london-schoolgirl-who-fled-to-the-islamic-state-didnt-know-how-to-pray.

Begum may also have been in contact with Scottish college student Aqsa Mahmood, who fled Glasgow, Scotland, for Syria in 2013 at the age of 20.Jon Stone, “Aqsa Mahmood branded a ‘disgrace’ by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East,” Independent (London), February 22, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/aqsa-mahmood-branded-a-disgrace-by-her-parents-after-claims-she-recruited-three-uk-girls-flying-to-middle-east-10062151.html. In the months prior to her departure, Begum asked Mahmood to contact her over Twitter, signaling that the two may have been in communication. After learning that Mahmood may have played a role in recruiting the Bethnal Green girls, Mahmood’s parents issued a statement saying they were “Full of horror and anger that their daughter may have had a role to play in the recruitment of these young girls to Isis.”James Cook, “Glasgow ‘jihadist’ Aqsa Mahmood denies recruiting London girls,” BBC News, March 16, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-31908202. Mahmood reportedly led the al-Khansaa Brigade, one of ISIS’s all-women militias that was notorious for violently enforcing the terror group’s religious and morality laws on women. Begum reportedly followed other Khansaa members on Twitter as well. The three Bethnal Green girls were allegedly training with the al-Khansaa Brigade as of 2015, according to media reports.Robert Verkaik and Tom Wyke, “Three London schoolgirls who fled to Syria ‘have joined fearsome all-female ISIS militia renowned for savage beatings and forcing children as young as nine to marry,’” Daily Mail (London), April 21, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043859/Three-London-schoolgirls-fled-Syria-joined-fearsome-women-ISIS-militia-renowned-savage-beatings-forcing-children-young-nine-marry.html. Mahmood has since denied having any connection to the three Bethnal Green teenagers.James Cook, “Glasgow ‘jihadist’ Aqsa Mahmood denies recruiting London girls,” BBC News, March 16, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-31908202.

In February 2019, a reporter for the Times newspaper in London discovered Begum in the al-Hawl Syrian refugee camp alongside hundreds of other ISIS wives and widows. Nine months pregnant at the time, Begum told the reporter that she feared what would happen to her or her unborn child if she had stayed on the battlefield in ISIS’s last stronghold in Baghuz, Syria. Following the deaths of their other two children, Begum and her husband chose to flee Baghuz that January. Begum’s husband surrendered to Syrian fighters allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces rebel group. Begum was transferred to al-Hawl. She claimed that she would “do anything” to be able to return to the United Kingdom with her soon-to-be-born child.Anthony Loyd, “Shamima Begum: Bring me home, says Bethnal Green girl who left to join Isis,” Times (London), February 13, 2019, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/shamima-begum-bring-me-home-says-bethnal-green-girl-who-fled-to-join-isis-hgvqw765d.

Begum’s reported contrition notwithstanding, her legal status in the United Kingdom remains unclear. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick stated in February 2019 that specific terrorism charges would need to be filed against Begum as going to Syria is not a crime in and of itself.Martin Evans, “Isil brides cannot be prosecuted for simply going to Syria, Met chief admits,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/19/isil-brides-cannot-prosecuted-simply-going-syria-met-chief-admits/. On February 19, 2019, two days after Begum gave birth to a baby boy, the British government revoked Begum’s citizenship. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid affirmed that the British citizenship of Begum’s child remained unaffected by her status.Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/; “Shamima Begum: What is her legal status?” BBC News, February 21, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47310206.

Under British law, citizenship may be revoked if the subject maintains citizenship in another country. The British government reportedly believed Begum held Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother. Two days later, however, the Bangladeshi government denied Begum’s citizenship status, which would leave her stateless in contravention of British law.Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 19, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/; “Shamima Begum: What is her legal status?” BBC News, February 21, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47310206. On February 22, U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called removing Begum’s citizenship “extreme” and defended her right to return to Britain.Tara John, “Jeremy Corbyn calls for ISIS bride Shamima Begum’s ‘return to Britain,’” CNN, February 22, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/21/uk/jeremy-corbyn-shamima-begum-scli-intl/index.html. Despite declaring her desire to return to the United Kingdom and abide by British values, Begum has continued to justify ISIS violence. In a February 2019 interview with the BBC, Begum said it was wrong to kill innocent women and children, but at the same time justified the May 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack as retaliation for the deaths of women and children in Syria.Gareth Davies, “Shamima Begum: Being stripped of my British citizenship is hard to swallow and unjust,” Telegraph (London), February 20, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/20/shamima-begum-stripped-british-citizenship-hard-swallow-unjust/.

Since she publicly reemerged in February 2019, Begum has received threats of violence in Syria and in the United Kingdom. In Wirral, England, a shooting range has used Begum’s image on its targets. Ultimate Airsoft Range issued a statement that it decided to use Begum’s image after witnessing her lack of empathy in her February 2019 interviews. Local government officials and Muslim advocates condemned the business’s decision.Mattha Busby, “UK shooting range uses Shamima Begum image for targets,” Guardian (London), February 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/27/uk-shooting-range-uses-shamima-begum-image-for-targets. In Syria, Begum has reportedly received death threats for speaking out about her desire to return to the United Kingdom. On March 1, 2019, British media reported that authorities had moved Begum and her son from al-Hawl to a camp in northern Syria near the Iraqi border.Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen, “Shamima Begum moved after threats in Syria camp, says lawyer,” Guardian (London), March 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/01/shamima-begum-moved-from-syrian-camp-after-threats. On March 8, the Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed that Begum’s baby had died in the refugee camp.“Shamima Begum: IS teenager’s baby son has died, SDF confirms,” BBC News, March 8, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47500387. Begum’s family and lawyer in the United Kingdom are proceeding with a legal appeal of her citizenship status.Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen, “Shamima Begum moved after threats in Syria camp, says lawyer,” Guardian (London), March 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/01/shamima-begum-moved-from-syrian-camp-after-threats. On July 16, 2020, the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to England to challenge the removal of her citizenship and the U.K. government is responsible for ensuring that Begum appears in court in London. The Home Office indicated its intent to appeal the decision.“Shamima Begum can return to UK to fight for citizenship, Court of Appeal rules,” BBC News, July 16, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53427197.

Since she publicly reemerged in February 2019, Begum has received threats of violence in Syria and in the United Kingdom. In Wirral, England, a shooting range has used Begum’s image on its targets. Ultimate Airsoft Range issued a statement that it decided to use Begum’s image after witnessing her lack of empathy in her February 2019 interviews. Local government officials and Muslim advocates condemned the business’s decision.Mattha Busby, “UK shooting range uses Shamima Begum image for targets,” Guardian (London), February 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/27/uk-shooting-range-uses-shamima-begum-image-for-targets. In Syria, Begum has reportedly received death threats for speaking out about her desire to return to the United Kingdom. On March 1, 2019, British media reported that authorities had moved Begum and her son from al-Hawl to a camp in northern Syria near the Iraqi border.Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen, “Shamima Begum moved after threats in Syria camp, says lawyer,” Guardian (London), March 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/01/shamima-begum-moved-from-syrian-camp-after-threats. On March 8, the Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed that Begum’s baby had died in the refugee camp.“Shamima Begum: IS teenager’s baby son has died, SDF confirms,” BBC News, March 8, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47500387. Begum’s family and lawyer in the United Kingdom are proceeding with a legal appeal of her citizenship status.Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen, “Shamima Begum moved after threats in Syria camp, says lawyer,” Guardian (London), March 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/01/shamima-begum-moved-from-syrian-camp-after-threats. On July 16, 2020, the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to England to challenge the removal of her citizenship and the U.K. government is responsible for ensuring that Begum appears in court in London. The Home Office indicated its intent to appeal the decision.“Shamima Begum can return to UK to fight for citizenship, Court of Appeal rules,” BBC News, July 16, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53427197.

The case elevated to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court.“Case of Islamic State recruit’s UK citizenship goes to Supreme Court,” Reuters, July 31, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN24W2YP. The British government argued Begum remained a national security threat and as such should not have her citizenship returned. Further, the Home Office argued that Begum should face “serious impediments in the way of her return to the UK.”Owen Bowcott and Dan Sabbagh, “Shamima Begum still a national security threat, UK supreme court told,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/23/shamima-begum-still-national-security-threat-supreme-court. Begum’s attorney argued that she could not properly appeal the ruling while remaining in Syria.Owen Bowcott and Dan Sabbagh, “Shamima Begum still a national security threat, UK supreme court told,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/23/shamima-begum-still-national-security-threat-supreme-court.

The British government continued to argue that Begum had Bangladeshi citizenship and so revoking her British citizenship would not leave her stateless. The appeal reached the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in November 2020.“Shamima Begum: Return to UK 'a security risk,’” BBC News, November 23, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55046030. However, on February 17, 2021, the Bangladeshi foreign ministry affirmed that Begum is not a citizen and is not permitted to enter the country. The foreign ministry also cited the facts that Begum was born in the United Kingdom and never applied for dual citizenship based on her family heritage.“IS teenager Shamima Begum will not be allowed into Bangladesh,” Reuters, February 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL8N1XG6GC. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the British government’s position on February 26, 2021. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled Begum’s right to a fair hearing does not trump the fact she continues to pose a security risk. The court also said Begum’s appeal of her citizenship decision should be put on hold until she can play an effective role without endangering the public.Michael Holden, “Runaway schoolgirl who joined IS cannot return to Britain, top court says,” Reuters, February 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AQ17W.

According to Begum, Sharmeena Begum and Abase were still in Baghuz, Syria, as of February 2019. Sultana was reportedly killed in 2016.Frances Perraudin, “Shamima Begum tells of fate since joining ISIS during half-term,” Guardian (London), February 14, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/14/shamima-begum-friends-kadiza-sultana-amira-abase-joined-isis-syria. As of February 2021, Begum remained in the Roj refugee camp in northeastern Syria, administered by Syrian-Kurdish authorities.Michael Holden, “Runaway schoolgirl who joined IS cannot return to Britain, top court says,” Reuters, February 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AQ17W. U.N. human rights experts have labeled conditions in the camp “sub-human” and called on countries to repatriate their citizens.Stephanie Nebehay, “U.N. urges 57 countries to reclaim women, children from Syrian camps,” Reuters, February 8, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-un-rights-idUSKBN2A81V4.

 
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