Shamima Begum says she wants to prove innocence in UK courts

Appearing in live TV interview from Syria detention camp, Begum says she ‘did nothing in Islamic State but be a mother and wife’

Shamima Begum has said she wants to face the British courts to try to refute claims that she was engaged in terrorist acts during the time she spent living under Islamic State in Syria in an extraordinary TV interview.

Appearing live on Good Morning Britain from a detention camp in Syria, the 22-year-old said she would “rather die than go back to IS” – and that she wanted to prove her innocence in the country of her birth.

“I am willing to go to court and face the people who made these claims and refute these claims, because I know I did nothing in IS but be a mother and a wife. These claims are being made to make me look worse because the government do not have anything on me,” Begum said.

Begum, who left east London as a 15-year-old schoolgirl to join the terrorist group, remains embroiled in a complex legal battle after her British citizenship was revoked in 2019 by then home secretary, Sajid Javid.

Earlier this year, the supreme court ruled she could not return to the UK to contest her case in person – but held out the possibility that she could challenge the ruling if she could properly instruct lawyers.

During hearings for the case, it emerged that she was still considered by MI5 as a national security risk because although she had travelled out as a minor, she had “aligned” with IS by remaining in Syria.

Begum did not give evidence during the trial and has not publicly spoken since the supreme court ruling in February. But she was interviewed on ITV’s morning show from Syria, wearing a Nike baseball cap, where she also asked for politicians and the public to forgive her.

“But for those who have even a drop of mercy and compassion and empathy in their hearts, I tell you from the bottom of my heart that I regret every, every decision I’ve made since I stepped into Syria and I will live with it for the rest of my life.”

Begum married a Dutch Isis fighter, Yago Riedijk, shortly after she arrived in IS territory. She had three children, all of whom died in infancy, and has been held by the Syrian Kurds since Islamic State’s military defeat in 2019.

Speaking on the same programme, Javid said any decision to remove a person’s British citizenship was not taken lightly. “It was based on the advice of my department but also our intelligence agencies, and I’m clear that it was absolutely the right decision to protect the British people,” said the cabinet minister, who is now health secretary.

Despite the televised appeal, there is no prospect of Begum being able to come to the UK in person given the court rulings, leaving her to remain under Kurdish detention until the British legal process is finally exhausted.

Leaks from Whitehall sources have suggested that Begum was involved in sewing suicide vests for Islamic State – but this claim has never been aired in court during the battle over her citizenship.

In her interview, Begum argued that she could help Boris Johnson in tackling terrorism, using “my own experience” explaining how extremists “persuade people to do what they do”. She added: “I think I could very much help you in your fight against terrorism, because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe.”


Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

The GuardianTramp

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