What was life like for the IS couple?


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Media captionYago Riedijk spoke to Quentin Sommerville in a Kurdish detention centre

Shamima Begum said she joined the Islamic State group (IS) in search of the perfect family life, and it was in Raqqa, shortly after she arrived in Syria four years ago, that it arranged a marriage between her and Dutch armed extremist Yago Riedijk.

She was 15 at the time and he was 23. In the UK, he would be guilty of statutory rape.

He sits opposite me in a yellow plastic chair, 27 years old now, in a freezing interview room in a Kurdish detention centre. His guards have just removed his handcuffs.

If I see Shamima, he asks me to “tell her that I love her and have patience”.

“Hopefully soon we’ll be together again and things will turn out all right – hopefully.”

It seems unlikely that will happen anytime soon.

Over the next hour, he paints a contradictory picture of an insulated home life, and a maelstrom of terror outside.

He said he kept the two separate and that his wife, despite her public statements to the contrary, was ignorant of IS’s crimes.

“I was keeping her in a protected shell,” he said.

“I did not give her any information about what was going on outside. The problems that I was facing, the dangers.

“She was just sitting inside taking care of the household while I was trying to get by.

“Feed her, feed myself. Try to keep out of trouble. Try to not getting killed by secret services.

“You know, making decisions that changed our lives, trying to keep us in safety.”

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Image caption

IS was driven out of Raqqa, the de facto capital of its “caliphate”, in October 2017

When I met Ms Begum last week, she said she had joined IS in search of the perfect family life.

She told me: “My family wouldn’t help me get married in the UK and the way they showed family life in IS was pretty nice.

“Like the perfect family life, saying they’d take care of you and take care of your family. And that was true.

“They did take care of me and my family at first but things changed after that.”

Their caliphate dream unravelled quickly.

It was a world of headless corpses and IS prison and torture for Mr Riedijk.

When I asked him if he knew of any Yazidis – the religious sect IS enslaved and murdered – he had this to say: “I heard about one Dutch guy. He had a slave.

“That’s about as close as I ever got to a slave. I heard she was about 40 years old.”

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Media captionShamima Begum: ‘I got tricked and I was hoping someone would have sympathy with me’

Ms Begum had said she had seen a human head in a bin; her husband explained it was in a bag on top of a pile of dead IS prisoners wearing military uniforms.

And he attended the stoning of a women accused of “fornication”.

“I actually never witnessed a beheading,” he said. “I’ve actually witnessed a stoning once.

“And I’ve watched, I’ve seen people who have been executed but not the execution itself.”

“Actually, she wasn’t stoned to death,” he corrected. “She stood up and she ran away.

“And, after that, they said to the guys who were throwing stones: ‘Stop throwing stones.’

“It’s not allowed to throw the stones after she gets up and runs away. So we stopped throwing stones at her and she escaped. After that they left her alone.”

‘I made a huge mistake’

Mr Riedijk’s wife claimed that he “wasn’t really a fighter”, but he went to fight for IS in Kobane and was injured.

He fought again in Aleppo.

He said: “I made a huge mistake. I’ve thrown away years of my life. It was not my life.

“Luckily, I didn’t directly hurt other people. But me joining and supporting a group like that. It’s something that’s not acceptable.”

He added that he had hardly used his weapon.

Now he says he wants to return to the Netherlands, with his wife, and his newborn baby son.

“I would love to go back to my own country,” he said, “which I now understand the privileges that I lived with. The privilege of living there as a citizen.

“And, of course, I understand that many people have a problem with what I did and I totally understand that.

“I have to take responsibility for what I did, serve my sentence. But I hope to be able to return to a normal life and to raise a family.”

For now, Ms Begum and Mr Riedijk have neither their passports nor control of their own fate.

They gave up both when they joined the Islamic State group, and are unlikely to see the return of either anytime soon.

Ms Begum is in a woman’s internment camp not very far away from her imprisoned husband.

Kurdish officials say there are no plans for them to be reunited.

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