Shamima Begum, 19-Year-Old Who Joined ISIS, to Lose UK Citizenship

Shamima Begum had left London with two friends in 2015, when she was 15, and traveled to Syria to join ISIS.

3 min read
CCTV footage shows Shamima Begum (centre) and two other girls going through security before catching their flight to Turkey.

Shamima Begum, a London teenager who left Britain four years ago to join the Islamic State group, is to be stripped of her UK citizenship by the government, her family's lawyer said on Tuesday, 19 February.

Attorney Tasnime Akunjee tweeted that the family is "very disappointed with the Home Office's intention to have an order made depriving Shamima of her citizenship."

He said the family is “considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” according to AP.

ITV News reported that the family had received a letter from the Home Office, which oversees immigration, saying that the order revoking Begum's British citizenship had already been made. The letter said Begum could appeal the decision.

Begum left London with two friends in 2015, when she was 15, and traveled to Syria. Now 19 and living in a refugee camp, she says she has given birth to a baby and wants to come home.

The case has reignited a debate in the UK about how to deal with citizens who joined ISIS, but want to return home now that the group is on the verge of collapse.

US President Donald Trump has demanded that European countries take back their citizens who fought in Syria, but European nations are worried about security.

Begum was found this month by The Times newspaper in a refugee camp in Syria. She said she had fled the Islamic State group’s last enclave.

The teenager said she had married an ISIS fighter, had lost two children through malnutrition and disease, and wanted her newly-born baby boy to grow up in Britain.

‘Let Me Come Back’

In a series of interviews with British media, she criticised some aspects of the Islamic State group and its self-proclaimed caliphate, but said she does not regret going there, AP reported.

She said she had been "OK with" beheadings carried out by Islamic State adherents because she believed it was allowed under Islamic law.

"I think a lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I've been through," she told Sky News. "I just was hoping that may be for me, for the sake of me and my child, they let me come back."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who oversees immigration, said on Monday, 18 February, that he would not hesitate to prevent the return of Britons who traveled abroad to join ISIS.

The British government has the power to remove citizenship on national-security grounds, though not if it would make the individual stateless. It was not immediately clear whether Begum has a second nationality.

Javid told lawmakers on Monday that more than 100 dual nationals had been stripped of their UK citizenship for terrorism-related reasons.

Hundreds of Britons have already returned from ISIS-controlled areas. Some have been prosecuted, and others put through de-radicalisation programmes.

British officials say about 900 Britons went to areas of Syria and Iraq that were controlled by the group. Of those, around 20 percent were killed, and about half of the survivors have returned to Britain.

Can Begum Claim Bangladeshi Citizenship?

Meanwhile, some immigration experts have suggested that Begum could claim Bangladeshi citizenship as her parents are from Bangladesh, The Washington Post reported.

But Bangladesh said on Wednesday, 20 February, that she "is not a Bangladeshi citizen."

"She is a British citizen by birth and never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh," Foreign Affairs Minister Shahriar Alam said in a statement, as per the report, adding: "There is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh."

Akunjee said Begum, who was born and raised in the east London area, “never had a Bangladeshi passport.”

"The government is not going to win this," Akunjee told The Post. "There is case law saying people in these circumstances are stateless and we will win."

(With inputs from AP and The Washington Post)

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