Family of pregnant IS teen plead for return

Shamima BegumImage copyright

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Ms Begum was 15 and living in Bethnal Green, London, when she left the UK in 2015

The family of Shamima Begum – who fled to Syria join the Islamic State group – have called for the UK government to bring her back “urgently”.

In a statement, the family from east London said that the 19-year-old’s unborn baby is “a total innocent” and had the right to grow up in the “peace and security” of the UK.

Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls who left the UK for Syria in 2015.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said earlier she could face charges if she returned.

Found on Wednesday in a refugee camp in Syria, Ms Begum said she wanted to return to the UK to have her child.

Her family said that until then they had “lost all hope” of seeing Ms Begum again, and that she had risked “imprisonment and death” in escaping from IS territory.

They said they were “utterly shocked” by her lack of regret about joining IS, but that they were the “words of a girl who was groomed at the age of 15” and is surrounded by IS sympathisers.

The family said they were concerned that Ms Begum’s mental health had been affected by her four years in Syria, during which she married an IS fighter and had two children who died.

“Now we are faced with the situation of knowing that Shamima’s young children have died – children we will never come to know as a family. This is the hardest of news to bear,” the family said.

“The welfare of Shamima’s unborn child is of paramount concern to our family, and we will do everything within our power to protect that baby who is entirely blameless in these events.”

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Media captionWe asked people in Bethnal Green, where Shamima Begum previously went to school, whether the teenager should be allowed back to the UK

They said they would welcome an investigation into Ms Begum’s actions in Syria “under the principles of British justice”.

Speaking to the Times from a Syrian refugee camp, Ms Begum said she did not regret joining IS and was not fazed by seeing “beheaded heads in bins”.

But she said that after losing two children, she was scared her unborn baby would die too.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he could use a range of measures to stop IS supporters who posed a serious threat from returning to the UK, such as depriving them of British citizenship or excluding them from the country.

“If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted,” he said.

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Met Police

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Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) in photos issued by police

The chief of the intelligence service MI6, Alex Younger, said that he was concerned about jihadists returning to Europe with “skills and connections that make them potentially very dangerous”.

But Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that under international law, Ms Begum would have to be accepted back into the UK if she had not become a national of any other country.

‘Stringent limitations’

The head of counter-terrorism policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, said anyone returning from conflict zones who has gone to support a terrorist group can expect to be investigated by the police to determine whether they have committed any terrorist or criminal offences, and to ensure they do not pose a danger to the public or the UK’s national security.

They can also expect to live “under stringent limitations” set out in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act, he added.

Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls, along with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, who left the UK for Syria in February 2015.

She said Kadiza Sultana had died in a bombing on a house, but the fate of her other friend is still unknown.

Two weeks ago, Ms Begum escaped from Baghuz – IS’s last stronghold in eastern Syria.

Her husband, a Dutch convert to Islam, surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, and she is now one of 39,000 people in a camp in northern Syria.

IS has lost control of most of the territory it formerly controlled in Iraq and Syria.

However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.

Will Shamima Begum be allowed to return to the UK?

Shamima Begum was legally a child when she pinned her colours to the Islamic State mast.

And if she were still under 18 years old, the government would have a duty to take her and her unborn child’s “best interests” into account in deciding what to do next.

But she’s now an apparently unrepentant adult – and that means she would have to account for her decisions, even if her journey is a story of grooming and abuse.

Another British jihadi bride, Tareena Shakil, who got out of the war zone with her child, lied to the security services on her return and was jailed for membership of a terrorist group.

If Ms Begum got out of the country, that is the kind of charge she could face – along with encouraging or supporting terrorism.

But that’s a long way off. Assuming she made it to an airport, the UK could temporarily ban her from returning until she agreed to be investigated, monitored and deradicalised.

Social services would also certainly step in to consider whether her child should be removed to protect him or her from radicalisation.

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