The story of Shamima Begum, who joined the terrorist group at the age of 15, has baffled British authorities and polarised the public. Numerous human rights groups have condemned the government for barring the young woman from returning to Britain, but others insist she poses a danger to national security.
Shamima Begum wore Daesh’s* badge on her blazer at school and tried to persuade her classmate and other students into joining the most brutal terrorist group in modern history, MyLondon has reported. According to the outlet, which spoke with former pupils of the Bethnal Green Academy, Begum as well as two other girls, who joined Daesh in 2015, were obsessed with the terrorist group.
“[They said] everyone that’s part of the group, they’re going to heaven. [The group] are trying to build a better place; a utopia”, Jon (not his real name) told the outlet.
Jon, who is not from a Muslim background, said he found the girls’ stories, which never mentioned the group’s violence, appealing. They made it sound like Daesh’s stronghold in Syria was a “good place to be”.
“You don’t need to worry about money or whatnot, everything’s there for you. If you just study and learn religion, uphold the values of Islam, your life is sorted. It was very attractive and I could see why those girls wanted to be there. [Based on this message] I can understand other people who were thinking of going or went to Syria”, Jon said.
Shamima and her friends were pressuring pupils into joining the terrorist group, Jon said. “They were like ‘you know, if you don’t go to Islam you are going to hell and you are going to die'”, he said.
The conversations took place at school or on the BlackBerry messenger and never on platforms that “could be tracked”, Jon revealed. One of the girls, Amira Abase wanted him to meet an imam who could talk about Daesh in more detail.
Trip to Syria and Attempts to Return to the UK
In 2015, Shamima Begum and two other British girls (Kadiz Sultana and Amira Abase) left the UK to join Daesh. There Begum married Dutch-born Islamist Yago Riedijk and the couple had three kids, all of them died. In 2019, The Times found her in a camp set up for Daesh relatives in Syria. During an interview with the newspaper, the young woman expressed a desire to return to the United Kingdom with her baby, who was alive at that time.
At the same time, she made several controversial statements that caused an uproar in Britain. She said she didn’t regret joining the terrorist group, believing it “changed her as a person” and made her “stronger”. “I married my husband. I wouldn’t have found someone like him back in the UK. I had my kids you know. I did have a good time there”, she told The Times.
Following the interview then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked her citizenship on national security grounds.
Since then Begum has backtracked on her statements, noting she made positive statements about life under Daesh in order to protect herself and her baby. The former Daesh bride said she thought that if she criticised the terrorist group other Daesh members living in the camp would attack her, stressing that she is willing to change and begging the government to forgive her and let her go back home.
Her family challenged the Home Office’s decision to revoke her citizenship, but following a long court battle the UK Supreme Court sided with the government.
‘I Believe in Second Chances’
Her story shocked and polarised Britain, with one side saying that she should be allowed to return home because she was a just a kid brainwashed and manipulated by extremists, while the other says she is a threat to national security because she joined one of the most brutal terrorist groups in modern history and thus should be left in Syria.
Begum’s peers too have different views on the matter. Jon said he would hug his former classmate.
“[If I saw her again] the first thing I would do is give her a hug. I’m pretty sure she’s been deprived from actual love. She felt helpless, I’m pretty sure she still feels helpless, there’s no support for her. I always believe in second chances, people make mistakes. I personally forgive her for trying to rope us into it”, he said.
Rabia (not real name), another student from the Bethnal Green Academy, is less forgiving. Although she admits that Begum and other girls were groomed by Daesh recruiters, she draws attention to Begum not being “a little kid”.
Rabia says the girl looked totally unrecognisable when she saw her interview with The Times.
“She has become completely different. I know it’s kind of rude, but it’s actually like she became so dumb. Seeing her on TV, she seemed like she went from this really confident, happy, smart person to someone with no common sense. And as a Muslim you should know your own true values. If you’re going to join something that tries to strip those values and tries to take your religion of peace and turn it into something disgusting and horrible, then that’s on you”, she said.
Meanwhile, Begum’s lawyers continue to fight against the government’s decision to have her citizenship revoked. Recently, her lawyers claimed there is “overwhelming evidence” that she was a victim of trafficking. The legal team also accused the Home Office of failing to investigate whether the young woman was kept in Syria “for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage”, pointing to the “suspicions of coercion and control” voiced by a UK counter-terrorism unit.
The government’s lawyer said the argument is “entirely speculative” and noted that Begum herself never said that she was trafficked or duped into joining the group.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/“Islamic State”) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and other nations