The story of London schoolgirls-turned-Islamic State (IS) brides Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase has had many twists since they left their Bethnal Green home for Syria in 2015.
All three girls married fighters who were part of the terrorist organisation at a time when it controlled a large proportion of both Syria and Iraq. Since the group’s collapse in 2019, Ms Begum has publicly insisted she does not support IS and has called for the UK government to allow her to return home.
The Home Office stripped her of her UK citizenship in 2019, claiming she presented a security risk to the country. Ms Begum lost her appeal against this decision on Wednesday (22 February), despite her legal team arguing she should be treated as a victim of child trafficking, and that being stripped of her citizenship failed to respect her human rights.
Her legal challenge came after new evidence was uncovered by the BBC in August 2022 which suggested the now-23-year-old had been trafficked into Syria by a Canadian spy. The government has insisted that even if Ms Begum was a trafficking victim, she still presents a terrorist risk to the UK. While the UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission has not taken a view on whether or not she posed a security risk, it has sided with the government as it says the Home Secretary’s legal powers outweighed her claims.
So, who exactly is Shemima Begum - and what happened to the other two schoolgirls who travelled with her to join IS?
Who is Shamima Begum?
Shamima Begum is a 22-year-old woman from East London who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State when she was a teenager in February 2015. At the time, the extremist Islamist group was at the peak of its powers and controlled an area roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland across both Syria and Iraq.
Ms Begum, who was 15 when she left the UK, and two schoolfriends - Amira Abase (15) and Kadiza Sultana (16) - travelled to the caliphate’s capital, Raqqa. The trio had been studying for their GCSEs at Bethnal Green Academy, London - where they were described as being "straight-A students". It is believed they were groomed over social media.
During her time under IS rule, Ms Begum married a Dutch IS fighter and had three children - all of whom have passed away due to illness and malnutrition.
She was found in the Al-Roj prison camp in North East Syria in 2019 and remains there almost three years on from Islamic State’s military defeat. Ms Begum has not been found guilty of breaking any laws and there has been no indication of how long she will be detained in the prison camp.
In February 2022 it emerged she was selling food parcels in a bid to buy Western clothes. Other inmates of the prison camp she is being held in are still reportedly loyal to IS and continue to wear religious dress.
A BBC report in August 2022 has since found that Ms Begum was smuggled into Syria by Canadian spy Mohammed Al Rasheed. Her lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, has argued she should be seen as a trafficking victim.
However, at a five-day specialist tribunal in November 2022, government lawyers say she should be treated as a national security risk regardless of whether or not she was a trafficking victim. They claim she joined IS with her “eyes open”, given their world view and “uncompromising brutality” was being covered widely in the media at the time when Ms Begum absconded to Syria.
The legal hearing, which was held at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) - a court with similar standing to the High Court - sided with the government on Wednesday (22 February). Explaining the ruling, Mr Justice Jay said that the tribunal found that there was a “credible suspicion” Ms Begum had been trafficked to Syria for sexual exploitation, “to which, as a child, she could not give a valid consent”.
But he added that the existence of this suspicion was “insufficient” for her to succeed with her argument that the deprivation of her British citizenship failed to respect her human rights. He explained that given she was in Syria, the Home Secretary did not have to allow her return to the UK and could not be stopped from using “deprivation powers”.
The Home Office and former Home Secretary Sajid Javid - who made the decision to take away Ms Begum’s citizenship - have welcomed the decision. But Amnesty International described it as “disappointing” and said: “the power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn’t exist in the modern world.”
Ms Begum’s lawyers have warned that the ruling by SIAC leaves “no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK”. They said they would be “urgently” looking into “every possible avenue” in a bid to release her from her “unlawful, arbitrary and indefinite detention” in a Syrian camp.
What has Shamima Begum been accused of?
Ms Begum has repeatedly called on the Government to allow her to return to the UK to clear her name in the courts.
The Government has said her return would pose too much of a security risk and has cancelled her British citizenship - a move criticised at the time by human rights groups, like Liberty. But the decision has been backed by some who argue Ms Begum effectively revoked her own right to live in the UK by joining a terrorist organisation that openly targets the West with attacks.
As well as travelling to Syria to join IS, Shamima Begum has been accused of taking part in atrocities for the terrorist group - an accusation she denied in a wide-ranging interview with Sky News that was published in November 2021. The 22-year-old told the broadcaster, "I’m willing to fight [the charges] in a court of law but I’m not being given a chance."
Addressing the fears that she could pose a security threat to the UK if she was brought back to face justice, she told Sky, "I didn’t hate Britain, I hated my life really. I felt very constricted, and I felt I couldn’t live the life that I wanted in the UK as a British woman."
What happened to Shamima Begum’s friends Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase?
Of the three girls who travelled to Syria in 2015, Ms Begum is currently the only-known survivor.
Kadiza Sultana was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike on Raqqa in August 2016. Her family said at the time that the teenager had become disillusioned with life in Syria and was hoping to return to the UK.
The fate of Amira Abase is unknown, although Ms Begum said in 2019 she had stayed in IS’s last stronghold Baghuz. It is understood she married an Australian jihadi named Abdullah Elmir, whose nickname was "Ginger Jihadi" because of his long red hair. He is believed to have been killed in 2015.