Shamima Begum: Everything You Need To Know As Her Name Hits The News Again

The teenager who left the UK to join IS in 2015 is back in the news, as she reveals more details about how she felt leaving Britain to join a terror group.

Shamima Begum has returned to UK headlines today as she reveals she was initially “relieved” to make it out of the UK to join a terror group in a new BBC podcast.

Begum, whose British citizenship has been an intense source of controversy in recent years, is now trying to return to her place of birth after fleeing the UK to join the Islamic State (known as IS or ISIS) back in 2015.

In 2022, a new book appeared to cast fresh light on how a people smuggler, who may have been affiliated with the west, helped Begum get to the terrorist group.

Now, in the BBC podcast The Shamima Begum Story, she said she was fed instructions from IS members to escape the UK, but also planned elements of the journey herself. The BBC describe this set of interviews as the “first full account of her flight to Syria”.

Who is Shamima Begum?

When she was just 15, Begum left the UK along with two other friends.

She fled from her family home in Bethnal Green, east London, and went to the middle east to join the so-called Islamic State.

Their disappearance prompted a huge international search led by the Metropolitan Police to find them. It was later discovered they had travelled via Turkey to get to IS in Syria.

Begum went on to marry a jihadist just 10 days after fleeing the UK – she was still just 15.

By the time she was found by the UK press in 2019, Begum was pregnant with her third child, whom she wanted to raise in Britain. Her two older children had already died at a young age by this point.

During those initial conversations with journalists, Begum did not appear to express regret about joining the terrorist organisation, and seemed to defend some of IS’s most brutal acts such as the 2017 Manchester bombing. But, she also asked for forgiveness from the UK and promised she still supported “some British values”.

She was stripped of her British citizenship by then home secretary Sajid Javid in February 2019 and later said she would never be allowed to return.

Her one-month-old child died shortly afterwards.

Javid’s decision was particularly controversial because it’s unlawful under British law to make a citizen stateless. But, the government claimed that removing her British citizenship is lawful because she holds Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents.

Despite her repeated attempts to repeal the decision and contest the removal of her citizenship, the UK Supreme Court ruled in favour of not allowing her back into the country. She and her legal team are now challenging that decision.

Now aged 23, she lives in a camp in northern Syria. The government’s treatment of her sparked a national conversation about the UK’s response to terrorism.

One of Begum’s friends who left the UK with her is still missing, while the other is thought to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

Begum is just one of thousands held in Syrian detention camps and prisons since the IS “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.

Why is she back in the news now?

The BBC’s new podcast gives Begum room to describe, in detail, how she left the UK.

She said she was “relieved” to leave her home country, and that she never expected to return, but now knows that the British public see her “as a danger, as a risk, as a potential risk to them, to their safety, to their way of living.”

Begum also said: “I’m not this person that they think I am.”

She added: “I’m just so much more than ISIS and I’m so much more than everything I’ve been through.”

Begum also claimed that the public’s anger is not towards her, but “towards ISIS”.

“When they think of ISIS they think of me because I’ve been put on the media so much.”

Pushed on whether this was just the consequence of her decision to join the terror group, she replied:“But what was there to obsess over, we went to ISIS that was it, it was over, it was over and done with, what more is there to say?”

Begum also said her family “thought I was too, like, weak to do somthing so crazy, so they did not think in a million years I could do that”.

“I’ve always been a more secluded person. That’s why it’s so hard the way my life has turned out being all over the media because I’m not a person that like a lot of attention on me.”

Ever since her whereabouts were uncovered in 2019 has repeatedly fought to get her citizenship restored so she can return to London.

Why did Begum make headlines in 2022, too?

A new book called The Secret History of the Five Eyes by Richard Kerbaj (formerly a security correspondent for The Sunday Times) has alleged Begum was trafficked into Syria by a people smuggler.

This people smuggler was a double agent for the Islamic State and Canada, according to Kerbaj, as reported by The Times.

Allegedly, Canada did not disclose the UK of its role when the Met was hunting for the teenagers, although the country later admitted its role after the government feared its role would be exposed.

According to Kerbaj, Canada then requested the UK cover its part in the saga.

The author claims Canada fears its own young people would join the terror group and so had recruited human trafficker Mohammed al-Rashed to work as a double agent, after he applied for asylum at the Canadian embassy in Jordan.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service told The Times that it could not confirm, deny or even comment on the specifics of investigations, operational interests, methodologies and activities.

The UK government said: “It is our long-standing policy that we do not comment on operational intelligence or security matters.”

A senior intelligence officer at an agency which is part of a global coalition against Isis, confirmed to the BBC that Rashed was providing information to Canada at the time.

He was arrested in Turkey just days after smuggling Begum, but she was already in Syria.

She was moved through a substantial Is people-smuggling network, controlled in the de-facto capital of Raqqa.

Begum also told the BBC’s upcoming I’m Not A Monster podcast: “He organised the entire trip from Turkey to Syria...I don’t think anyone would have been able to make it to Syria without the help of smugglers.

“He had helped a lot of people come in...we were just doing everything he was telling us to do because he knew everything, we didn’t know everything.”

The BBC confirmed that he passed in and out of Jordan multiple times between 2013 and 2015.

Now, Begum revealed in The Shamima Begum Podcast that she and her friends actually did some research themselves before leaving to join the terror group, such as look up how to speak bits of Turkish to help them cross the IS-controlled border into Syria.

What did the 2022′s revelations trigger?

Tasnime Akunjee, the Begum family’s lawyer, called for an inquiry into what was known about the double agent.

“Britain has lauded its efforts to stop Isis and the grooming of our children by spending millions of pounds on the Prevent programme and online monitoring,” he said.

“However, at the very same time we have been co-operating with a western ally, trading sensitive intelligence with them whilst they have effectively been nabbing British children and trafficking them across the Syrian border for delivery to Isis all in the name of intelligence-gathering.”

Lashing out at Canada, and the UK, he added: “Intelligence gathering looks to have been prioritised over the lives of children.”

One of Akunjee’s main “arguments” for the reinstatement of Begum’s citizenship is that Javid did not consider her was a victim of trafficking.

He added: “The UK has international obligations as to how we view a trafficked person and what culpability we prescribe to them for their actions.”

Why does this topic still matter?

Begum was born and raised in the UK. The removal of her citizenship completely shook Britain’s relationship with anyone descended from migrants who now live in the UK.

This latest claim that she was in fact smuggled by someone working for Western intelligence has strengthen calls for her to be allowed back into the UK.

Here’s just a few tweets explaining why the revelations about the potential involvement of a people smuggler make an already controversial situation even more tense:


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