The United Kingdom has been shaken by the news of 19-year-old IS Bride, Shamima Begum’s, desire to return to Britain after four years spent with the radical group. While still a school girl, Begum travelled from Bethnal Green, East London to Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS caliphate and now she wishes to return home. Her request to travel back to the UK has been met with diverse opinion. While some strongly believe that she should be stripped of British citizenship and banned from the country, others are demanding she be brought back and tried under our judicial system, attempts at deradicalization or they simply believe that her return may enable us to learn from what successfully radicalises people.
Issues have arisen since, surrounding whether her citizenship removal is legal.
This row over the fate of Begum has culminated in the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, ordering that she be deprived of her British Citizenship after insisting that he would do all in her power to prevent her coming back. On 19thFebruary the Home Office issued a letter to Begum’s family, outlining his decision, and stating that her rights would be stripped that day. Javid, however, was immediately faced with the threat of a legal battle from Begum’s family lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, who announced on behalf of the family that they would be considering all legal avenues to challenge the decision. Issues have arisen since, surrounding whether her citizenship removal is legal. According to Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, the home secretary does, in fact, have the power to strip Begum of her UK Citizenship provided that he can show that she has behaved ‘in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’ and he has ‘reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able under the law of a country or territory outside the UK to become a national of such a country’.
Accordingly, the Home Secretary believes that the fact that Shamima’s parents are of Bangladesh heritage means that Shamima can herself apply for citizenship of that country. However, experts remain undecided as to whether this action is legal. It has been argued that Begum cannot bea Bangladeshi citizen unless, at the time of her birth, her parents had registered her at the High Commission. It is understood that her parents have stated they did not register her birth in this way and have appealed the decision and Bangladesh has also denied her citizenship.
Complicating the matter of Begum’s return is her new-born child, whom she has claimed is ill. As the child was born before the issue came to strip her of her rights, the child remains a British Citizen and his rights, accordingly, remain unaffected. The return of her child is still uncertain however, as he won’t possess the relevant UK identity documents that makes it possible for his travel back. Begum’s family are, however, exploring the possibilities of his return while their daughter awaits the outcome of her appeal.
‘people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through’
On discussing her time in Syria to Sky News she told them that although she was aware that Islamic State had beheaded people, she was ‘okay about it’ and similarly asserted that witnessing a decapitated head in a bin did not faze her. Regarding her choice to join Islamic State, she has also stated that she doesn’t ‘regret it because it has changed me as a person’ and that her decision was fuelled by her attraction to the IS propaganda videos. Moreover, she maintains that ‘people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through’.
The Mail on Sunday have reported conversations with Begum’s father, Ahmed Ali, who declared that he was ‘on the side of the Government. I can’t say whether it is right or wrong, but if the law of the land says that it is correct to cancel her citizenship, then I agree’. He further added that ‘If she at least admitted she made a mistake then I would feel sorry for her and other people would feel sorry for her’. However, he later reversed this, claiming his comments were ‘misinterpreted’ and that “If she has committed any crime, they should bring her back to London, to her country, and punish her there.”
Around 120 suspected jihadists since 2016 have been stripped of their nationality
Although remaining a difficult topic, if Begum’s ban from the United Kingdom goes through, she will not be the first to be stripped of citizenship in Britain. Around 120 suspected jihadists since 2016 have been stripped of their nationality and banned from returning to the UK, including El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, who were part of ‘the Beatles’, a terror group responsible for the killings of western captives, including Alan Henning and David Haines.
It has now surfaced that Yago Riedijk, Shamima’s Dutch husband, has stated that he wants her to return to the Netherlands with him and has supported her statement that she did not partake in any dangerous activities, but rather maintained their insulated home and family life. He has admitted fighting for the group and is being held in a Kurdish detention centre in north-eastern Syria. Though Riedijk is on a terrorism watch list and faces a six-year jail sentence if he returns, his Dutch citizenship has not been revoked. It is also possible that their child will be entitled to Dutch citizenship.
However, Begum’s family lawyer has now claimed that she and her baby have been moved from the Syrian refugee camp after facing threats from other IS brides in the camp. Mr Akunjee, ‘can confirm that it is our understanding that Shamima has been moved from Al-Hol due to safety concerns around her and her baby’. Begum has revealed that she regrets speaking to the UK media about her wish to return and believes the UK to be ‘making an example of her’. Meanwhile, both her citizenship and safety remain in question and will surely be debated further.
* Article written prior to the death of Begum’s child.