A London schoolgirl who had left the United Kingdom in 2015 to join the Islamic State group now wants to return home as she is nine months pregnant and scared for the child.
Nineteen-year-old Shamima Begum said she has no regrets about joining the group but was tired of living on a battlefield. She was located in the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria by the London-based newspaper The Times.
“I was weak,” she told the newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday. Begum said she fled the Islamic State’s last remaining stronghold in Baghuz two weeks ago. “I could not endure the suffering and hardship that staying on the battlefield involved. But I was also frightened that the child I am about to give birth to would die like my other children if I stayed on,” she said. “So I fled the caliphate. Now all I want to do is come home to Britain.”
“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” Begum said. Her one-year-old daughter and three-month-old son both died in Baghuz from illnesses and malnutrition, she added.
Begum and two 15-year-old girls – Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase – fled to Turkey from London in February 2015 after telling their parents they were simply going out. They had then entered Syria to join the terrorist group.
After they reached Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the caliphate, the three girls were put in a home for single women, Begum was quoted as saying. She was then married to a Dutch fighter named Yago Riedijk, who was older than her by 12 years, according to Al Jazeera. The other two girls were also married to foreigners.
She confirmed the death of Sultana, who was reported to have been killed in a 2016 air raid on Raqqa. Abase and another woman who had fled from Bethnal Green two months before them, Sharmeena Begum, are most likely still alive in Baghuz, she added.
“I heard from other women only two weeks ago that the two were still alive in Baghuz,” Begum said. “But with all the bombing, I am not sure whether they have survived. They were strong … I respect their decision. They urged patience and endurance in the caliphate and chose to stay behind in Baghuz. They would be ashamed of me if they survived the bombing and battle to learn that I had left.”
“But I just want to come home to have my child,” she said. “That’s all I want right now. I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”
Explaining her life in the caliphate, she said, “Mostly it was a normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff. But when I saw my first severed head in a bin, it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam.”
Her views were, however, conflicting. On the one hand, she said, “there was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory”, on the other she claimed: “I don’t regret coming here.”
Begum’s sister, Reenu, urged the British government to bring her home. “She’s pregnant and vulnerable, and it’s important we get her out of al-Hawl camp and home as soon as possible,” she told ITV News. “We hope the British government will help us bring her home to us where she belongs.”
“I am relieved that she is alive and simultaneously appalled by the news that someone so young has birthed and lost children,” Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer representing the Begums told Sky News. “There is a very traumatised young person who will have to live through the rest of her life with the added burden of the reporting of her tragedy.”