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The pregnant British schoolgirl who wants to return to the UK after she fled London to join Islamic State in Syria will not be rescued, the security minister has confirmed.
Shamima Begum left Britain when she was 15 to join the terrorist organisation in Syria but, after being tracked down by The Times at a refugee camp in the north of the war-torn country, she now says she’ll ‘do anything’ to return and have her baby.
But Ben Wallace said he would not put British lives at risk to ‘go and look for terrorists or former terrorists’, adding that ‘actions have consequences’.
While refusing to comment on individual cases, Mr Wallace later told the BBC: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.
“There’s consular services elsewhere in the region and the strong message this Government has given for many years is that actions have consequences.”
Now 19 years old and heavily pregnant, Begum, the bride of an Islamic State fighter who is in captivity, has already had two children who are dead.
Stating that ‘I don’t regret coming here,’ she told The Times: “I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago.”
She also told the paper: “The caliphate is over. There was so much oppression and corruption that I don’t think they deserved victory.
“I know what everyone at home thinks of me as I have read all that was written about me online.
“But I just want to come home to have my child. 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.”
Begum was one of three schoolgirls – along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase – from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families in February 2015 to join a fourth Bethnal Green schoolgirl in Syria who had left London the year before.
They each married an Isis foreign fighter, according to The Times.
Sultana was reported to have been killed in an airstrike on Raqqa in May 2016, while Begum has recently heard second-hand from other people that Abase, and the other schoolgirl who left Britain in 2014, may still be alive.
When she arrived, Begum was put in a house where jihadist brides-to-be waited to be married, she said.
She was married 10 days after arriving in Raqqa in 2015 to a Dutchman who had converted to Islam. She claims her husband was later arrested, charged with spying and tortured.
She left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a girl aged a year and nine months old and a three-month-old boy, both died in recent months. Her son had an unknown illness worsened by malnutrition, The Times said.
Begum said she had a mostly a ‘normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff’.
She told the paper: “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. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.”
The family went to Baghuz and she left there two weeks ago along a three-mile long corridor east of the town. Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and she has not seen him since.
What action might she face if she is allowed to return to the UK?
The Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases, although anyone who returns to the UK after travelling to IS territory faces criminal investigation and stricter laws are now in place.
Home Office Minister Ben Wallace has said everyone who returns from taking part in the conflict in Syria or Iraq must expect to be investigated by the police. This will determine if they have committed criminal offences, and to ensure that they do not pose a threat to national security.
However, Begum was a school pupil when she ran away and Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who was instructed by the girls’ families after they disappeared, said that British authorities should be reminded of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe’s position at the time.
Lord Hogan-Howe said that the girls would be treated as victims so long as they had not committed any further offences while in Syria.
Mr Akunjee said: ‘The position of the Metropolitan Police was that they should be treated as victims, so long as they hadn’t committed any further offences while they are out there.’
Do the girls pose a threat?
Joana Cook, a senior research fellow at KCL who co-authored the study, said the researchers considered the women to be potential security threats based on several factors.
She said: ‘(These include) the physical security roles and related training that women have undertaken in IS-held territory, and the potential to transfer or apply these skills in other locations, or to pass these on to other people… including other women and their children.’