Appearing in person for the first time since her return to Britain, teenage runaway says she wants to clear her name
Shamima Begum has appeared in person for the first time since her return to Britain, telling politicians that she felt “uneasy” before going to Syria because she didn’t “hate Britain as much as I thought I did”.
The teenage girl, who left behind a pregnant teenage cousin to join Isis in 2015, spoke out at a home affairs select committee hearing in Westminster on Sunday. She was resettled in Bethnal Green, east London, in April and told the hearing she came back without her boyfriend.
Begum described the period leading up to her departure from Bethnal Green as “a blur”, but said she had doubts about whether she had made the right decision to become part of the armed group.
“Had I known then what I know now, I would have not gone,” she said, urging officials to do more to assist young men and women who tried to leave Syria without legal help.
“My life changed. I think about it every day. I want to go back. I want to understand why,” she added.
“I feel uneasy now when I remember. I had somebody to live for me, somebody that I loved, and I felt that to be real. But to be real I had to take that path.”
Shamima Begum: ‘I think about it every day. I want to go back’ Read more
Begum told the panel of MPs that she tried to contact her older cousin in London in November 2014 but did not hear from her again, adding: “I loved that boy, I still love him to this day, but I didn’t love Britain as much as I thought I did.”
Asked what she would like the UK to do to help her, she replied: “I don’t know, I don’t know, I wish there was, it’s not just something you can say it’s not my case, so I’m not saying I’m at fault, but let’s help people who are not like me.”
In January, Begum became the first British woman to give birth in the caliphate when her son died of illness in March, and she gave birth to a second boy last month.
In May, she was confirmed as the only member of her family to have been in contact with people trying to help them come home. Her 15-year-old cousin managed to flee Raqqa after her mother and brother already had.
Begum made her initial application to come home three years ago but was refused on the grounds of national security.
Shamima Begum’s cousin gives birth to baby boy in UK Read more
She said she had “no right to decide when my son gets killed or [how long] he lives” and that the death of her husband had been a major regret of her time in Isis.
However, the international aid charity Plan International UK told the select committee that Begum had made a difficult decision to go to Syria.
Sarah Evans, development director at Plan International UK, which supports people affected by global conflict and poverty, said: “As a young girl Shamima made the most difficult decision of her life, moving from a UK where she felt she could flourish, to a society where young women are becoming more and more susceptible to radicalisation and death.
“Our comprehensive research shows that 40% of men and 65% of women from towns like Bethnal Green have been recruited by extremists and so the UK has a responsibility to tackle these sources of vulnerability as a matter of urgency.”
Evans added: “Not only does being a threat to the UK encourage potential fighters to travel to Syria, but when these fighters return, as is already happening, they re-engage with Isis to recruit.
“There are still numerous humanitarian crises around the world and I urge the UK to step up its support to tackle this.”