The Home Secretary has warned he ‘will not hesitate’ in shutting the door on a pregnant schoolgirl who ran away to join Isis. Sajid Javid said those who left the UK to join Isis were ‘full of hate for our country’, and should be prepared to be prosecuted if they do return home. Speaking to The Times, he said: ‘My message is clear – if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.
‘If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.’ Shamima Begum, 19, is heavily pregnant and has begged to be allowed to return to Britain to give birth. She married a Dutch convert, Yago Riedijk, 27, within 10 days of arriving in Syria after reportedly applied for a husband who ‘spoke English between the ages of 20-25’. Speaking from a refugee camp in northern Syria, she said her two other children were dead and she wanted to ‘do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly’ with her third child. If she does return, she will face an investigation to establish if she has committed any criminal offenses and to evaluate if she poses a threat. The Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases, although anyone who returns to the UK after travelling to Isis territory faces criminal investigation and stricter laws are now in place.
Begum also admitted that she had no regrets leaving the UK and but added she is ‘not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green, east London, four years ago’. But her claim has been highlighted as a cause for concern by some, who say her claims sound ‘unrepentant and cynical’. Her hopes for rescue were quashed yesterday when the Government ruled out an effort inside Syria to bring her back. Security minister Bell Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.’ Mr Wallace has also warned that runaways who now want to come back must realise that ‘actions have consequences’.
Begum’s family has pleaded for her to be shown mercy and to be allowed to return to east London and be ‘re-educated’ Her brother-in-law Mohammed Rehman told MailOnline:’I can understand why people in this country are angry and don’t want her back. What she’s done doesn’t portray Islam in a good light. ‘But she was only 15 when she went to Syria. We are appealing for compassion and understanding on her behalf.’ Her case has polarised opinions across the country, and a petition calling for all Isis members to be banned from the UK has so far had more than 160,000 signatures. She has received high-profile backing, with former MI6 chief Richard Barrett saying the teenager should be given a chance ‘if we are to stand by our values’.
Meanwhile, Anthony Loyd, The Times correspondent who found Begum, said she was a ’15-year-old schoolgirl who made a terrible mistake… and we must do out best to rehabilitate her amongst our own people’. But many are insistent that she should not be allowed back – including the brother of Alan Henning, the British aid worker beheaded by Jihadi John. Reg Henning who said: ‘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.’
Former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, told the BBC that if Begum has not gained a second citizenship of another country she will have to be allowed back to her homeland because under international law it is not possible for a person to be made ‘stateless’. Begum travelled from Bethnal Green to Syria in 2015 at the age of 15 alongside two other schoolgirls, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, to become a jihadi bride. Sultana is reported to have been killed in an air strike in 2016, but Begum indicated Abase might still be alive. Another girl, Sharmeena Begum, also 15, also from Bethnal Green but not related to Shamima, had travelled to Syria two months earlier, and is also said to have survived.