UK High Court Backs Stripping Citizenship Of British-Born Student Who Joined ISIS

August 8, 2019 Updated: August 8, 2019

In the first case of its kind, the British High Court has upheld the government’s decision to strip a British-born man of his citizenship after he traveled to Syria as a student to join ISIS.

The judge on Aug. 7 also rejected arguments that Ashraf Mahmud Islam, who had dual British-Bangladeshi citizenship, should be repatriated to be tried under British law in lieu of facing justice in Syria, where he could face the death penalty.

Justice Pepperall said in the ruling that Islam’s current detention and risk of the death penalty was “entirely because of his own actions in traveling to Syria and engaging in jihad.”

Islam was just 18 when he traveled to Syria in 2015 from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he was studying at a British educational establishment.

Two years later, the British interior minister revoked his British citizenship in a letter dated July 17, 2017, sent to his father.

This undated photo issued by the Metropolitan Police shows Shamima Begum.
This undated photo issued by the Metropolitan Police shows Shamima Begum. A pregnant British teenager who ran away from Britain to join ISIS terrorists in Syria four years ago. She said on Feb. 14, 2018, she wants to come back to London, UK, with her child. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

Taking action that leaves a person stateless is illegal under international law. However, like Britain’s infamous so-called jihadi-bride Shemima Begum, his dual UK-Bangladeshi citizenship provides legal cover for the government.

After years of silence, Islam resurfaced in a military prison in Kurdish-controlled north-eastern Syria in the spring of 2018, writing to his father for help, and telling ITV in an interview that October that he had “made a mistake” after traveling to “help the Syrian people,” according to the court documents.

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تم النشر بواسطة ‏‎ITV News‎‏ في الجمعة، ٢٦ أكتوبر ٢٠١٨

His father lodged a legal appeal in the UK, which ended up in the High Court, asking for a judicial review.

He made the legal case for two demands: first that the government restore Islam’s citizenship; second, that the government help repatriate him to face trial in the UK.

Justice Pepperall however, rejected the case as having “no merit.”

He rejected legal arguments that allowing Islam to be tried in Syria would be a violation of European rights law because he could face the death penalty.

No Violation of Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled it wrong to deport some individuals to face the death penalty.

However, the judge said that the same arguments did not apply here.

“It is not clear how the home secretary is under any legal duty to make arrangements to repatriate Ashraf in order that he can be tried in the UK.”

“Ashraf got himself to Syria and might well have committed serious criminal offenses in the Middle East.”

‘However repugnant his possible fate might be to British values, any British citizen who commits serious crimes abroad is subject to local justice and cannot simply demand that the British government extricates him from a situation of his own making in order that he can face the more palatable prospect of justice in a British court.”

The judge noted that Islam was born in London and “appeared to have every advantage in life,” living with his father, a barrister, and his mother.

Pepperall said that Islam’s father believes his son was not involved in armed conflict, but said this “would appear to be rooted more in hope than hard fact.”

Pepperall rejected the characterization of his father as a “meddlesome busybody” saying that he appeared to be a acting as a “loving father who was deeply affected by the issues.”

The Only US Jihadi Bride in the Camp

Shemima Begum’s parents have also lodged a legal appeal against the decision to revoke her citizenship.

Begum traveled to Syria as a schoolgirl, aged just 15, from her home in London to join the so-called caliphate. She gave birth in the spring of 2019 in a Kurdish refugee camp, after sparking controversy with a number of interviews in which she expressed little remorse, prompting the government to revoke her citizenship.

Shamima Begum interviewed by Sky News
Shamima Begum being interviewed by Sky News in northern Syria on Feb. 17, 2019. (Reuters)

Her baby died a few weeks later.

Begum was staying in a refugee camp of 40,000 people, home to the estimated 1,500 people who traveled from Western nations, predominantly Europe, to join ISIS.

The only person among those 40,000 who is thought to have traveled from America, Hoda Muthana, has also been blocked from returning by the U.S. Government.

Her family, too, is challenging the decision in the courts.

Muthana, 24, is alleged to have been a prominent online agitator for ISIS, marrying three members of the terrorist organization after she traveled to Syria in 2014.

hoda muthana yearbook
Hoda Muthana, now 24, in a 2012 yearbook picture. (Hoover High School)

Having been tracked down by media in a refugee camp, with an 18-month-old son, in February she expressed her wish to return to the United States.

On Feb. 20 the United States said she won’t be allowed back into the country.

civil complaint filed by her father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, on Feb. 21 claims that his daughter’s right to citizenship cannot be unilaterally revoked—citizenship that does not exist, according to an earlier statement by Mike Pompeo.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey
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