Britain could be forced to take back a runaway Islamic State schoolgirl – and dozens of other jihadi brides fleeing their collapsing caliphate.
Ministers yesterday vowed not to risk UK lives to rescue pregnant teenager Shamima Begum, who is begging to come home despite having ‘no regrets’ about her four years in Syria.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said last night he would use all available powers to prevent Begum from returning to the UK, while security sources told The Times she would be treated as a ‘national security threat’ if she returned to British soil. But if Begum, 19, makes it across borders to a British consulate, officials will have little choice but to allow her home so the NHS can care for her baby.
Shamima Begum (pictured in her passport photo, and right before she left aged 15) is now 19 and is alive in Syria – she wants to return to the UK
Shamima Begum one of three schoolgirls at Gatwick Airport as she left the UK to marry a foreign fighter for ISIS
The Mail understands dozens more jihadi brides are poised to come back to Britain as their medieval caliphate is crushed.
Begum was just 15 when she and two other pupils from Bethnal Green Academy in London flew to Syria in 2015 to marry IS fighters. This week she shocked the world again by showing up at a refugee camp in Syria, having fled the terror group’s final battle.
The teenager declared no remorse but revealed her first two children had died and she was ‘terrified’ of theconditions in the camp. She ‘desperately’ wants NHS help with her third baby, which is due any day now.
Mr Javid said: ‘We must remember that those who left Britain to join [IS] were full of hate for our country. My message is clear – if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.’
He told The Times: ‘If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.’
Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, added: ‘If she does return, she needs to be very carefully watched and perhaps prosecuted. This is not a trivial matter. She hasn’t just gone for a bit of a holiday and come back. She’s done something really quite appalling and sided with a violent enemy.’
There is furious opposition to the idea of Britain welcoming the women back when they chose to embrace a terror organisation that horrified the world with videos of hostages, such as volunteer aid worker Alan Henning, being beheaded. As an extraordinary row broke out:
- Mr Henning’s brother said it would be ‘disgusting’ if Begum was allowed home;
- Security minister Ben Wallace said ‘actions have consequences’ but admitted as a British citizen, ‘she has rights – that’s the reality of it’;
- A former police chief warned Begum could become a ‘lightning rod’ for the far-Right if allowed home;
- A lawyer for her family said she should be treated as a victim;
- A Bethnal Green imam said the former schoolgirls were a ‘danger for the community’, but Begum said: ‘I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away.’
In an extraordinary interview, Begum told Anthony Loyd, a correspondent for The Times who found her in the Al-Hawl refugee camp, that ‘I don’t regret coming’ to Syria.
She added: ‘When I saw my first severed head in a bin, it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter on the battlefield – an enemy of Islam.’
Begum said that as of two weeks ago, her Bethnal Green classmates Amira Abase and Sharmeena Begum were alive. But both had chosen to stay in the town of Baghuz where IS is being crushed by Kurdish-backed Syrian forces. A fourth girl, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in 2016.
Kadiza Sultana, then 16, Amira Abase, then 15 and Shamima Begum, then 15, (left to right) in images released by police in 2015 after they ran off to Syria
Bethnal Green runaway Amira Abase (left in September) used a pictured of a woman in a full veil clutching a knife on her Twitter page, which has been shut down
Shamima Begum’s brother-in-law Mohammed Rehman said: ‘The family spoke with Shamima. It was very emotional. Shamima’s mother broke down when she heard her voice.
‘We didn’t know if she was alive or not. So you can imagine, this has come as a shock to us all. We want her to come back so that she can be re-educated. I can understand why people in this country are angry and don’t want her back. But we are appealing for compassion and understanding on her behalf.’
Mr Rehman told The Times that Begum’s reluctance to denounce IS may be the result of ‘Stockholm syndrome’, where kidnap victims adopt the views of their abductors. He said: ‘She has been there for so long, maybe the only way to make it through was to keep supporting [the ideology].’
Mohammad Uddin, the father of Sharmeena Begum, said the girls should be forgiven because they were ‘radicalised and brainwashed’. Abase’s father, Hussen Abase, said: ‘They are no threat to us.’
Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer for the girls’ families, said they were ‘victims’. He added: ‘I’m grateful she’s still alive, but she remains in danger.’
The families of Amira Abase and Shamima Begum had previously appealed for the young girls to return home
But Alan Henning’s brother Reg said Shamima Begum should ‘absolutely not’ be allowed back. Mr Henning, 69, of Bury, near Manchester, added: ‘The authorities should take her passport off her. She made her choice, didn’t she? She made her bed and she should lie in it.’
Dr Kim Howells, a former counter-terrorism minister, said: ‘She sounds completely unrepentant, she sounds cynical, she said she wasn’t fazed by the sight of these heads in a bin, as she described it.
‘And now she wants to take advantage of the NHS. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be a lobby to get this girl home on humanitarian grounds.’
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said Begum could become ‘some sort of lightning rod for both Islamic and far-Right extremists’.
Sources said there were dozens of British women and their children in the camps spread across Syria.
Mr Wallace vowed that no diplomats would risk their lives to go and rescue Begum, but admitted: ‘She is eligible for consular assistance if she makes it to a country where there is that – Turkey, Iraq.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said those who went to Syria ‘must be in no doubt they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted’ on their return.
Jailed TOWIE jihadi is back on our streets: Only British woman jailed for joining Islamic State was released in July
The only British woman to be jailed for joining Islamic State is back on the streets.
Tareena Shakil was nicknamed the Towie jihadi when it emerged the fan of reality TV shows such as The Only Way Is Essex fled to Syria with her toddler son in 2014.
The former student, now 29, from Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, posed her son in an IS hat and appeared in pictures with an AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun.
Tareena Shakil (pictured) is the only British woman to be jailed for joining Islamic State
After returning to the UK to face justice she told jurors she escaped after tricking an IS minder into allowing her on a bus to visit a non-existent husband. She then paid a taxi driver to take her close to the Turkish border. From there, she claims she ran across a field to safety with her son in her arms.
Shakil, whose mother, Mandy, 52, is a white English Muslim convert, was convicted of joining IS and jailed for six years in February 2016.
Her conviction came a year after she was arrested after touching down at Heathrow. She was released on licence in July, relatives said yesterday.
One said: ‘I’ve seen her a few times since then, including at Christmas. She has put all that radicalisation behind her and just wants to live a normal life now. She no longer wears a headscarf.’ The relative said Shakil had some ‘supervised contact’ with her son, but he was not in her custody.
Shakil’s father, Mohammed, 47, and brother, Tareem, 25, were jailed last November for running a county lines drug racket.