Shamima Begum left her home in London when she was 15 to join ISIS. On February 13, she was found by British newspaper, The Times, in a Syrian refugee camp. She is now 19 years old and nine months pregnant with her third child.
Begum told The Times that she “just want(s) to come home to have my child. I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago.” Two weeks before she was found, she decided to flee ISIS’ last stronghold in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria. She said that she left because, “[ISIS] is just getting smaller and smaller and there's so much oppression and corruption going on that I don't really think they deserve victory." Begum was also worried about her unborn child and scared to have the baby in an active warzone.
In February 2015, Begum and two of her friends flew to Istanbul from London and are suspected of crossing the Turkish-Syrian border a few days later. After arriving the three girls were separated and placed in a house for women awaiting marriage. Ten days later, she was married to a Dutch fighter named Yago Riedijk. Begum described life as an ISIS bride as "normal life, like the life that they show in the propaganda videos.”
Two years later, in January 2017, she and her husband started moving southeast as the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces pushed forward. The two eventually came to Baghouz, which is currently where ISIS is making it’s last stand against SDF forces. Two weeks ago, Begum fled Baghouz, ending up in the Syrian refugee camp where The Times found her. "In the end, I just could not endure any more," she said. "I just couldn't take it. Now all I want to do is come home to Britain."
However, Begum has also been recorded saying more concerning quotes. These quotes lead to the British Home Office, the department responsible for immigration and security, to question whether or not she should be allowed to return home. In the same interview with The Times, Begum said that she did not regret coming to Syria, and she wanted to return home because “the caliphate [rule or reign of the chief Muslim ruler] is over.” She has also been quoted saying, “When I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn't faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam."
These quotes reveal that Begum could still believe in Islamic extremism or other beliefs ISIS supported. Though she has said that she wants to return to the United Kingdom to have her baby, she has not officially renounced any Islamic State beliefs and there is evidence to support the fact that she still supports them.
In the eyes of the Home Office, Shamima Begum poses a security threat to the United Kingdom. Ben Wallace, the UK security minister, said that because of this threat, if Begum were to return home she should be "prepared to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted for committed terrorist offenses."
"We recognize that there are children involved in this who had no choice about being out there, but ultimately what we have to do is protect the public.”
"People who went out there often as amateurs are now professional terrorists or professional supporters of terrorism, and we have to make sure we mitigate that threat should they come back." he said. The United Kingdom has also decided to revoke Begum’s citizenship, potentially leaving her stateless.
Other analysts and lawyers have agreed with Wallace’s decision. Mubaraz Ahmed, an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute, says that Begum's "self-confession paints the picture of a young woman that [...] appears to continue to hold on to some notion of a deserved victory against the enemies of Islam." However, Ahmed also says that Britain needs to provide facilities and support to help with the rehabilitation of ex-Islamic fighters.
Whether or not to allow Shamima Begum to return the United Kingdom and be rehabilitated will be a very hard decision for the United Kingdom. On one side of the argument, Begum is going to have a child in horrible conditions and just wants to return to her home to provide a safe place for her baby. However, the Home Office needs to take into consideration the safety of the general public, and analyze whether or not Begum really poses a risk.