The British woman who moved from London to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State won’t be able to return to England, British officials say. A lawyer for the family says 19-year-old Shamima Begum’s citizenship is being revoked — an action that could render her stateless.
Begum had wanted to return before the birth of her third child, but British Security Minister Ben Wallace said he was unwilling to risk British lives “to go looking for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state,” according to The Guardian. Despite the urging of President Trump, European countries in general have been reluctant to welcome back citizens who have sided with the Islamic State.
A letter sent Tuesday from the Home Office to Begum’s mother, and obtained by ITV News, said: “In light of the circumstances of your daughter … the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made.” The Home Office asked the mother to inform her daughter of the decision, along with her right to appeal.
Attorney Tasnime Akunjee said in a tweet that Begum’s family is disappointed by the Home Office’s move “to have an order made depriving Shamima of her citizenship.” Askunjee said they are considering “all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”
Begum was the subject of an international search when, as a 15-year-old, she and two other teenage girls ran away from their homes in London and made their way through Turkey into Syria.
Shortly after arriving, she married a Dutch ISIS fighter and gave birth to two children who she says died from malnutrition and disease. Pregnant a third time, Begum fled to a refugee camp in Syria.
She was found this month by a reporter from The Times of London, who was visiting the Syrian camp that is home to 39,000 refugees containing hundreds of wives, widows and children of ISIS fighters.
“Her two infant children were dead; her husband in captivity,” reporter Anthony Loyd wrote. “Nineteen years old, nine months pregnant, weak and exhausted from her escape across the desert, she nevertheless looked calm and spoke with a collected voice. ‘I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,’ she told me. ‘And I don’t regret coming here.’ ”
Begum has since given birth to her third child, a boy. She told the BBC earlier this week that she didn’t want to be the “poster girl” for the Islamic State, and she hoped that her new baby could be British. “I actually do support some British values and I am willing to go back to the UK and settle back again and rehabilitate and that stuff,” she said.
But British officials are unwilling to risk British lives to retrieve her, Wallace said, telling the BBC that “actions have consequences.” Home Secretary Sajid Javid told members of Parliament on Monday that British troops would not be sent to rescue nationals who had left to join the Islamic State in Syria, the BBC reported.
The British Nationality Act of 1981 lets the government strip Britons of their citizenship if it would be “conducive to the public good” and if the person wouldn’t become stateless as a result. Begum’s mother is believed to be a Bangladeshi national, which would mean her daughter is also, the BBC said.
But Akunjee told The Independent that Begum had “never had a Bangladeshi passport” and that the Bangladeshi government has no record of her. “Our position is that to all practical purposes, she has been made stateless,” he said.