Shamima Begum says she understands public anger but ‘is not a bad person’

23-year-old tells story of how she joined Islamic State and life in a refugee camp in BBC podcast series

Shamima Begum, who left Britain to join Islamic State as a schoolgirl in 2015, has said she understands public anger towards her but insists she is “not this person that they think I am”.

Begum, who was 15 when she left her east London home to join IS with her school friends Kadiza Sultana, 15, and Amira Abase, 16, has told the story of how she joined the terror group and life in a refugee camp in a 10-part BBC podcast, The Shamima Begum Story.

Begum was found in a refugee camp in 2019, stripped of British citizenship and banned from entering Britain. She said she knew the public saw her “as a danger, as a risk, as a potential risk to them, to their safety, to their way of living”, but added: “I’m not this person that they think I am.”

At 15, Shamima Begum ran away from her London home to join the Islamic State group in Syria.

Now she wants to come back.

Josh Baker has followed the story since Begum left the UK in 2015.

In this series he investigates what really happened.

Listen on BBC Sounds now ⬇️

— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) January 11, 2023

The 23-year-old, who had three children in Syria, all of whom died, now lives at the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which she described on the podcast as “worse than a prison”.

In the Syrian camp she told the journalist Josh Baker: “This is, I feel, worse than a prison I think it’s because at least with prison sentences you know that there will be an end but here you don’t know if there’s going to be an end.”

Begum has challenged the UK government’s decision to strip her of her citizenship in the hope that she will be allowed to return to Britain. In November last year, a court was told that she was likely to have been the victim of child trafficking and sexual exploitation. The Home Office has argued that people trafficked to Syria and radicalised remain threats to national security as they may be desensitised after exposure to extreme violence.

Begum told the podcast she was “not a bad person”, adding: “I’m just so much more than Isis and I’m so much more than everything I’ve been through.” She said she understood public anger towards her, but added: “I don’t think it’s actually towards me. I think it’s towards Isis. When they think of Isis they think of me because I’ve been put on the media so much.”

She accepted that she had joined a terror group, but said she and the other girls – who are both believed to have died in Syria – were given explicit instructions from the terror group’s members on how to reach IS-controlled Syria. She said they also researched the trip themselves, including learning the little Turkish they needed to cross the border.

Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, told the BBC it was still not clear why Begum joined IS as a teenager and “what forces brainwashed her”. He said: “I think most people will say that, frankly, we owe her nothing. She got herself into this mess and frankly it’s down to her to work out how she’s going to get out of it.”

Earlier this month, Spain became the latest country to start repatriating families of IS fighters from Syrian refugee camps, when two Spanish women and 13 Spanish children arrived at the Torrejón de Ardoz military airbase near Madrid.


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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