Shamima Begum, who left Britain as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State in Syria, remains a serious threat to national security and should be deprived of her UK citizenship, the supreme court has been told.
Extracts of MI5 assessments of the dangers posed by the return of those who joined Isis were read out on Monday at the start of a two-day hearing challenging the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship and refuse her leave to enter the UK.
Sir James Eadie QC, for the Home Office, told the court the assessments gauged that Begum presented a serious threat “justifying the removal of her British citizenship and … the placing of serious impediments in the way of her return to the UK.”
Eadie said: “She is assessed to pose a real and current threat to national security. She is aligned with [Isis]. During the four years she has spent in Islamic State territory she had undergone radicalisation and ‘desensitisation to violence’.”
Excerpts of MI5 assessments of those who lived under the so-called caliphate said they were exposed to “desensitising acts of brutality” as well as instruction in using firearms.
Women and children non-combatants “regularly carried weapons and received some level of military training”, the reports said. The return of anyone who had spent so much time being indoctrinated in Syria represented an increased risk they would “inspire and encourage” others to carry out attacks in the UK, the court heard.
In a 2019 interview with the Times, the court was told, Begum said she had seen severed heads dumped in rubbish bins and wondered “what had these men done to Muslim women”.
Eadie said that making it difficult to return was part of the intention to reduce the public’s exposure to a “national security threat”. Begum, he said, remained with Isis “until the very end, she didn’t regret going and she wanted the caliphate to be victorious”.
Begum, now 21, is challenging both the decision to deprive her of citizenship and the decision to refuse her leave to enter the UK. Supporters point to the fact she was a child when she was targeted and groomed by jihadist groups; they say the UK government failed to protect her and prevent her leaving the country.
Lord Pannick QC, representing Begum, told the court: “Ms Begum cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal [while she is in Syria].” Granting her leave to enter the UK is the only, effective way of letting her participate, he added.
“[That] is the only means to ensure procedural fairness in the unusual circumstances that arise in this case ... Parliament cannot have envisaged that in circumstances where she cannot take part in any meaningful appeal the appeal should proceed.
“It’s difficult to conceive of any case where the court has said [someone] cannot have a fair trial but we will go on with it anyway.”
In February, a unanimous judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) found Begumhad not been improperly deprived of her citizenship. The ruling accepted that conditions in al-Roj camp, where she is being held in Syria, amounted to, at least, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, but deemed that her human rights were not protected under UK law.
The tribunal concluded the decision to strip Begum of her citizenship did not make her stateless because she was entitled to, or in effect held, Bangladeshi citizenship. Begum was born in the UK and grew up in east London.
In June, the court of appeal partially overturned the decision.
In February 2015, aged 15, Begum left her home with two other teenagers and travelled to Syria to join Isis.
Begum claims she married the Dutch Isis fighter Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in Isis territory. The couple had three children, two of whom died of disease or malnutrition during Isis’s last stand at Baghuz. The third died in al-Hawl camp.
Civil rights organisations and the UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism have intervened in the case.
Begum is one of an estimated two dozen Isis Britons or former Britons held by the Syrian Kurds in camps in north-east Syria, 15 women and nine men according to research by the Egmont Institute – plus a further 35 children who may be British citizens because of the background of their parents.
Two other women, known only as C3 and C4, also began an appeal on Monday at Siac against decisions by the home secretary, Priti Patel, to deprive them of their British nationality last year.
Both women were born in the UK, and both had parents who were born in what is now Bangladesh before moving to the UK. C4, who is 28, has three young children, one of whom was born in the UK before she left for Syria in 2015. C3 is 30 and travelled to Syria in July 2014.
The Home Office says the women had their citizenship removed on national security grounds and denies making them stateless.
That is contested by lawyers for the two women, who also say Patel took away their British citizenship without notifying either women or their families – and that they only became aware of what had happened when they asked the Foreign Office for help in repatriating them.