As things stand, Shamima Begum is unlikely to return to Britain. And that’s just as well for us. In 2015, notoriously, she flew from London to join Islamic State’s burgeoning ‘caliphate’ in the Middle East. The ticket was one-way – which is exactly how it should stay.
Today, an immigration judge rejected Begum’s appeal against former home secretary Sajid Javid’s 2019 decision to revoke her British citizenship.
This means she will remain in Syria where, readers have doubtless noticed, she has not exactly kept quiet. The one-time jihadi bride has orchestrated an impressively slick media campaign from her refugee camp, funded and directed by who knows who.
This has included giving repeated press and TV interviews and, most controversially, pontificating on a recent lengthy podcast series on the BBC.
Preferring these days to sport a jaunty baseball cap and tight jeans instead of the black cloak of the dutiful Islamist wife, Begum has insisted she is a different person from the wide-eyed teen who ran away to join a terror group. ‘I’m just so much more than Isis!’ she complained on the BBC’s ten-part audio series, I’m Not A Monster, which promised to ‘retrace her journey’ towards terror.
Shamima Begum, left in 2019, and in December last year. Today, an immigration judge rejected Begum’s appeal against former home secretary Sajid Javid’s 2019 decision to revoke her British citizenship
CCTV image of British teenagers Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum walking with luggage at Gatwick Airport
Let us not forget: when Begum first spoke to British media from the Syrian camp, she boasted how she ‘wasn’t fazed’ by seeing a severed head in a bin. She is reported to have sewn explosives into suicide bombers’ shirts and she even claimed that the murder of 22 innocent people, many of them children, at a Manchester pop concert in 2017 was ‘fair justification after Western air strikes against Isis in Syria’.
Little wonder that the families of Isis victims were appalled by the BBC’s decision to commission a podcast on her case, citing ‘public interest’. Yesterday’s court verdict only reinforces what looks to many like a serious lapse of editorial judgment. Our home intelligence service, MI5, appears entirely unconvinced by Begum’s claims to be a changed woman, believing the 23-year-old still poses a threat to national security.
A serious lapse of editorial judgement
MI5’s official assessment deemed her comments in interviews ‘likely to have been self-serving and an attempt to obtain favourable media coverage in the run-up to this appeal’. Many agree – among them veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer, who said yesterday: ‘She clearly represents a threat… There is a lot of information in this case that is not in the public domain.’
MI5 has argued that, far from being an innocent abroad, the computer-savvy Begum must have been fully aware of the atrocities being meted out by Isis sadists when she fled east London. Back then, the group was uploading horrific videos of its brutality and murder on an almost daily basis. Begum is known to have devoured this revolting content.
When Begum first spoke to British media from the Syrian camp, she boasted how she ‘wasn’t fazed’ by seeing a severed head in a bin
The jihadi bride appearing on Good Morning Britain in an exclusive interview in September 2021
She and her legal team argue that when she joined Isis, she was being brainwashed by the group’s ‘propaganda machine’, as well as sexually exploited by her forced betrothal to an adult fighter. We are being asked to believe that she was not hungry for adventure in a faraway land, but instead a coerced victim who didn’t understand anything she was doing.
I believe that nothing could be further from the truth. Over five years, I have investigated how and why Begum, along with two other Bethnal Green schoolgirls, left Britain for Isis. I have also reported how they followed an apparent ringleader, Sharmeena Begum (no relation), a fourth girl who attended the same school.
I talked to some of these girls’ families and friends about what happened. They made it abundantly clear that the teenage Begum was captivated by Isis’s bloodthirsty online material long before she ran away. As far back as the autumn of 2014, she and the other girls had become fascinated by the ‘caliphate’ that had suddenly reared up across vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Begum and her friends lied and lied again
Few in the West were unaware of the group’s atrocities – all lavishly filmed for dissemination online. British aid volunteers David Haines and Alan Henning had been slaughtered in the most hideous manner by the group’s psychopathic executioners. One of Shamima’s trio of friends was also attending hardline Islamist protests against the West with her own father in London.
Begum, born to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, was an intelligent girl preparing to sit her GCSEs. My investigations made it clear that even in 2014, she was becoming increasingly obsessed with Islamist terror.
She and her friends spent hours in their bedrooms, consuming material published by pro-Isis accounts and communicating with their fanatical followers.
On social media, Begum was ‘following’ no fewer than 70 Isis terrorists around the world.
Begum, born to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, was an intelligent girl preparing to sit her GCSEs
At school, she and her radicalised clique would sit in the canteen catching up on all the latest Isis news on their smartphones. Girls who had once chatted about music, having their ears pierced or painting their nails were viewing footage of beheadings.
My interviews with Shamima’s non-Muslim friends revealed how she pulled away from them in the months before she vanished.
They observed that, while the girls had been brought up in Britain and had even competed in the school’s athletics teams, this changed when they hit puberty. Suddenly, in keeping with their communities’ strict religious beliefs, they were expected to conform to very different traditions. They moved into what some might call a parallel universe. While their non-Muslim friends began to enjoy the freedoms of older teenagers living in Britain, they did not.
Going to parties was frowned on if alcohol was to be served. Foreign holidays with other teenagers were out of the question, as was meeting boys alone. One of Begum’s friends said they suspected she joined Isis because it was an ‘exciting thing to do, a way of rebelling’. Another added: ‘These girls weren’t going to be able to go to university outside London or be allowed to get a job in a male-dominated environment. All were likely to have marriages arranged by their families. By 14, they were growing apart from us. They looked disapprovingly at our Western lifestyles.’
The classmates also told me of their shock when Begum’s clique began distributing Isis propaganda. She and the group sent their friends a video that claimed Israelis were deliberately burning Palestinian children alive.
They also used derogatory terms for non-Muslims, calling one girl a ‘slag’ and others ‘kafir’ (an Arabic slur for non-believers).
All this, of course, is a far cry from the plaintive arguments put forward by Begum’s lawyers, who seek to portray her as an ingenue when she fled – and now a reformed character. Her KC, Dan Squires, claimed that Begum was ‘recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria by Isis for the purpose of sexual exploitation and marriage’.
My response is simple. If Begum travelled to Syria against her will, why did she never say so at the time? Are we really expected to believe she did not know what she was doing? And why wasn’t she repelled and horrified by Isis’s barbaric propaganda, as any normal person – of any age – would be?
Begum and her two friends – Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 – planned their escape with extraordinary precision. One sold family jewellery to finance the journey. On the day they left, one told her family she was going to school to do extra revision, another that she was going to the library to study. They lied and lied again.
From Gatwick, they flew to Istanbul. Then – exhibiting no signs of duress, and still with every opportunity of backing out of their ill-advised voyage – they went to a bus station for an allegedly pre-arranged meeting with an Isis facilitator who ushered them into the Syrian war zone.
It is dispiriting – if entirely predictable – that so many on the Left have swallowed Begum’s pathetic attempts to paint herself as a peace-loving young woman with every right to live among us, rather than as the Isis fanatic she clearly was. But at least some semblance of sanity still exists within our judicial system.
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