Will Shamima Begum Be Allowed Back To Britain After Joining Isis? It Depends Who You Ask

Everyone is talking about the 19-year-old's possible return – but the reaction exposes a grey area in the UK's policy on this issue.
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The revelation this week that a London schoolgirl who fled Britain to join Islamic State in Syria now wishes to return has prompted a wave of responses from politicians, lawyers and the public.

Shamima Begum, who ran away from her Bethnal Green home aged 15 with two friends, made her plea to be brought back to Britain after The Times newspaper tracked down the now heavily pregnant 19-year-old to a refugee camp in northern Syria.

But her request has been met with opposition from senior politicians and former terror cops. And her fate differs, depending on who you ask.

Sajid Javid, home secretary

<strong>Home secretary Sajid Javid suggested he would stop Isis Brits returning to the UK.</strong>
Home secretary Sajid Javid suggested he would stop Isis Brits returning to the UK.
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Sajid Javid sought to strike a strident tone on Friday by attempting to see off Begum’s bid to return to Britain.

“We must remember that those who left Britain to join Daesh were full of hate for our country,” the home secretary said. “My message is clear — if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return. If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.”

It was reported that, as Begum’s parents are from Bangladesh and her Jihadist husband is Dutch, UK officials believe she may be effectively a dual-citizen.

As such, they believe they could withdraw her UK citizenship without contravening international law, which prevents a person being made stateless.

Further reports on Friday suggested former Isis brides could be detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, a US navel base in Cuba.

Alex Younger, head of MI6

But in contrast to Javid’s position, the head of MI6, Alex Younger, said on Friday that no Britons can be prevented from returning from Syria.

If they did return, Younger told a conference event in Germany, “very significant level of resource” would be required to “make sure they don’t represent a threat”.

“Public safety is the first thing we will consider,” he said, according to Sky News. While the return of suspected Isis fighters to Britain had been “manageable” so far, he warned: “I can’t predict accurately what will happen in the future. We will be looking at every individual’s circumstances.”

Ben Wallace, security minister

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace, Javid’s Home Office colleague, was also less than certain about preventing Begum’s return.

Wallace said he believed those who travelled to join terrorist organisations would face prosecution if they came back to Britain.

“The message is, to all people out there, which is if you have been out there, against the advice of the foreign office to go and engaged in support or activities of terrorism you should be prepared, if you come back, to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted for terrorism offences,” he said.

He added that the government would not send a rescue mission.

“I’m not risking British lives to go and rescue terrorists in a failed state. Actions have consequences,” he said.

Sir Mark Rowley, former terror chief

Former top terror cop Sir Mark Rowley said Begum would likely face prosecution should she return.
Former top terror cop Sir Mark Rowley said Begum would likely face prosecution should she return.
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Sir Mark Rowley led efforts as Scotland Yard’s top terror chief in 2015 to appeal to the teen and her two friends to return to Britain after they left the country. Now retired, Sir Mark said on Thursday that his views had changed since that appeal.

“My view has changed. What the police and security services will be doing now is a cold rational assessment of the intelligence. What risk does she pose to the UK?” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The camp she is in does not have consular services and I doubt the Foreign Office will be rushing in to find her.

“Police teams have been working hard to collect evidence from things collected on the battlefield, those who have returned, and social media.”

“Support for a proscribed terrorist organisation, like Isis… is a serious criminal offence,” he added.

Sir Mark said that, were Begum to return, it would be likely she would face prosecution if evidence was found to suggest she had actively helped Isis while in Syria.

Sadiq Khan, London mayor

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Khan told Sky News that he believed Begum could be interviewed “before she gets on a plane”, adding: “If any criminal offences have been committed, she should be charged and prosecuted.”

The mayor also suggested the teen should not be allowed back into Britain if the security services believe that she poses a risk to national security or of committing terrorist offences.

Antony Lloyd, Times journalist who found Begum

Antony Lloyd, The Times’ war correspondent who tracked Begum to northern Syria, said on Thursday that his impression of her from their hour-long meeting suggested she had been effectively brainwashed.

“She’s an indoctrinated Isis bride, she’s two things: the 15-year-old schoolgirl who was groomed and lured to the Caliphate, and two years later, she’s an indoctrinated Isis bride,” Loyd told the BBC.

“She did not express regret, she said she had no regret. She was also in a state of shock, she had just come out of the battlefield, she’s nine months pregnant.

“We must bear in mind she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she left the UK.”

Mohammed Rehman, Begum’s brother-in-law

Begum’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Rehman, told The Times on Friday that, while he understood why people do not want her to return, her family are appealing for compassion.

“As a family we can’t understand how her head was turned like this and why she thought going to Syria was a good idea,” Rahman told the Times in an interview. “Family ties will always be family ties. They know her best, and they will always want her back.”

He added: “I can understand why people in this country are angry and don’t want her back. What she’s done doesn’t portray Islam in a good light. But she was only 15 when she went to Syria. We are appealing for compassion and understanding on her behalf.”

Meanwhile, the father of another schoolgirl who left alongside Begum said he believed they should be allowed to return home.

The father of Sharmeena Begum, who fled east London, with Shamima, said: “I think they should be allowed to come home. When they went to Syria they were not mature and they had been radicalised.”

Shamima Begum seen aged 15 leaving London Gatwick for Syria in 2015.
Shamima Begum seen aged 15 leaving London Gatwick for Syria in 2015.
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