A pregnant Bangladeshi-British teenager, who escaped from London in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria, says she is not the same “silly” girl now, but wants to return to the UK as she is worried about the health of her unborn child.
Shamima Begum, 15, was one of three British schoolgirls who ran away from their homes in the UK in 2015 to be jihadi brides, causing much concern in the country on the impact of online radicalisation, especially among the youth.
Speaking from a refugee camp in Syria, Begum, now 19, has lost two children, told the Times newspaper that she was nine months pregnant and wanted to return to the UK for her baby.
She said she remained scared her unborn baby would become ill in the refugee camp after she fled ISIS’ last remaining enclave in Baghuz, eastern Syria.
“That’s why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of – health-wise, at least,” she said.
She said she should be giving birth “any day now”. “I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”
Begum said she had two other children who died in infancy from malnutrition and illness.
Begum and two of her fellow Bethnal Green academy students, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, made headlines when they flew from Gatwick to Turkey in February 2015, then entered Syria.
Begum and Abase were both 15, while Sultana, another Bangladeshi-British, was 16. They had told their parents they were simply going out for the day. Begum said Sultana was killed in an air strike on Raqqa, the stronghold of the ISIS.
But Begum expressed no regrets about escaping from the UK.
“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” she said.
“I don’t regret coming here,” she said.
After arriving in Raqqa, she stayed at a house with other newly arrived brides-to-be, she told the Times.
“I applied to marry an English-speaking fighter between 20 and 25 years old,” she said.
Ten days later she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam.
She has been with him since then, and the couple escaped from Baghuz – the group’s last territory in eastern Syria – two weeks ago.
Begum said her husband who had fought for ISIS, surrendered to Syrian fighters allied to the US- supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) weeks ago and that she had not seen him since.
She is now one of 39,000 people in a refugee camp in northern Syria.
Asked whether her experiences of living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Begum said: “Yes, it did. It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos – it’s a normal life.”
“Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that…”
She said that seeing her first “severed head” in a bin “didn’t faze me at all”.
“It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam.
“I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance,” she said.
She told the paper that “the caliphate is over.”
“They’re just getting smaller and smaller and there’s so much oppression and corruption going on that I don’t really think they deserve victory,” she said.
ISIS aims to create an Islamic state called a caliphate across Iraq, Syria and beyond. ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, is implementing Sharia Law, rooted in eighth-century Islam, to establish a society that mirrors the region’s ancient past.
ISIS is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions, crucifixions and other acts.
Meanwhile, it is not clear if the British government would allow her to return home, the BBC reported.
The British government has been quite clear that it does not want them to come back to Britain, it said.
Then there are those who went to join the IS group as supporters – and Shamima Begum fits into that category, it noted.
The British government has said it won’t help them out of northern Syria but if they manage to get to a place where there is a recognised government then they’ll see what they can do.
It is unclear at the moment as to quite what that might be.
British security minister Ben Wallace has suggested that, in those situations, the British government would at least consider helping them to come home, but then there’s the possibility of prosecution and a jail sentence for supporting a terrorist group.
A new Pentagon report says the US government is encouraging other countries to accelerate efforts to repatriate foreign ISIS fighters to their home countries for prosecution. Progress has been difficult, though, due to political concerns and the challenges of gathering legal evidence to support prosecutions once they have returned, CNN reported.