A woman who fled London to join ISIS at the age of 15 said she has no regrets about joining the terrorist group but is now desperate to return to Britain so she can deliver her third baby there.
Shamima Begum, now 19 and in her ninth month of pregnancy, was interviewed by The Times of London after surfacing in a refugee camp in Al-Hawl, northern Syria.
Begum described her nearly three years in the jihadist caliphate, in what was at times a shocking conversation, such as when she talked about seeing “beheaded heads” in bins, but noted that it “did not faze her.”
The first time she laid eyes on the aftermath of a beheading “was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield.”
“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” she told the interviewer, Andrew Loyd.
‘I Just Want to Come Home’
Begum is due to give birth to her third child after her first two children died of starvation and illness in the conflict zone. The mother-to-be said she is desperate to return to the UK and have a decent life there with her baby.
“I know what everyone at home thinks of me, as I have read all that was written about me online,” she said. “But I just want to come home to have my child. I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”
Begum’s elder sister Renu told ITV News, “I’m so relieved that my sister has been found safe and sound.”
“We are aware that she has been trying to get out,” Renu said, but added that her family had lost contact with the jihadi bride for the “longest time.”
Renu pleaded for the British government to allow her sister to return to the UK.
Will Begum Be Allowed Back?
The British government has stepped up efforts to block ISIS affiliates from returning to the UK on grounds that they pose a threat.
In cases of individuals involved in combat operations and who may have committed atrocities, the UK government has used a controversial new power to deprive them of British citizenship. In 2017, the new legal authority was used to strip 104 people of their British citizenship, compared to 14 people in 2016.
The government said stripping citizenship is “particularly important in helping prevent the return to the UK of dual-national British citizens involved in terrorism-related activity in Syria or Iraq.”
The power has also been extended to lower-level extremists and criminals, including Rochdale grooming-gang members.
However, the UK government draws a distinction between people who have actually fought under the banner of ISIS and those who joined the terror group as supporters.
The BBC reported that Security Minister Ben Wallace has suggested that, in case of jihadi brides—understood to fall into the latter category—the British government would consider helping them to come home.
He noted, however, that they would face the possibility of prosecution and a jail sentence for supporting a terrorist group.
Wallace said, as cited by The Telegraph, “The message is to all the people out there. If you have been out there against the advice of the foreign office to go and engage in support or activities of terrorism, you should be prepared to be—if you come back—questioned, investigated, and potentially prosecuted for committing terrorist offenses.”
Scared Third Child ‘Would Die’
Begum said the deaths of her two children “came as a shock. It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard.”
She told The Times that when her son got sick and she took him to a hospital, “[there] were no drugs available, and not enough medical staff.”
Three months ago, at 8-months-old, the boy died. She buried her daughter—who was nearly 2 years old when she died—about a month ago.
She said her decision to leave was in part because she was “frightened that the child I am about to give birth to would die like my other children if I stayed on.”
“That’s why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of—healthwise, at least,” she said.
She added she could give birth “any day now.”
‘Couldn’t Take It’
Discussing what prompted her to flee the embattled village of Baghuz, Begum described herself as “weak” for leaving the terrorist group.
“In the end, I just could not endure anymore. I just couldn’t take it. Now all I want to do is come home to Britain.”
Begum also said the “oppression” she faced within the ISIS organization had come as a “shock.” She added she thought the “caliphate” was nearing collapse.
“I don’t have high hopes. They are just getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “And there is so much oppression and corruption going on that I don’t really think they deserve victory.”
She told The Times that her husband—an ISIS extremist from Denmark—surrendered himself to Syrian fighters and is believed to have been killed.
Begum also described how one of her two school friends that had left the UK with her—Kadiza Sultana—died in a bombing.
The fate of the third girl—Amira Abase—is unclear.
Still, the teenage mother-to-be insisted, “I don’t regret coming here.”
‘Not Particularly Interested’
In a move that made headlines in Britain, the trio of teenaged London schoolgirls left stable family backgrounds in February 2015 to join what has been described as a murderous jihadi cult.
Begum and Abase were both 15, while Sultana was 16, when they flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey, after telling their parents they were going out for the day.
The girls later crossed the border into Syria.
Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who headed a terrorism prevention program at the time the girls ran away, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that he could understand why the government was “not particularly interested” in facilitating Begum’s return back to Britain.
“If the woman was showing complete remorse,” he said, “it would be completely different.”
He said an operation to bring her back would cost taxpayers a “vast amount of money” and, once Begum entered the UK, additional police resources would potentially be needed to ensure her safety.