Shamima Begum was trafficked to Syria for ‘sexual exploitation’ by adult Isis fighters, court hears
Shamima Begum was trafficked to Syria to have sex with adult Isis fighters and bear their children in a form of “sexual exploitation”, a court has heard.
Lawyers representing the 23-year-old, who travelled to join Isis in Syria aged 15, argue that she was “groomed” by the terrorist group, but an MI5 agent claimed she “knew what she was doing”.
Ms Begum was married to an Isis fighter quickly, and her first two children died as infants. The third, born shortly after she was found in a detention camp in 2019, died at less than three weeks old.
The British government did not formally assess whether she was a victim of trafficking before putting her in “exile for life” by removing her British citizenship, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission was told.
In the latest stage of Ms Begum's battle against the decision to deprive her nationality on national security grounds, her lawyers told a hearing on Monday that proper assessments were not made.
Then home secretary, Sajid Javid, was accused of acting with “extreme speed” by removing her citizenship days afterThe Times published an interview with Ms Begum in a detention camp.
Samantha Knights KC, for Ms Begum, said: “This case concerns a British child aged 15 who was persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective Isis propaganda machine.”
She argued that Mr Javid decided to remove her citizenship in an “extraordinary way” in February 2019, with “inadequate and over-hasty steps taken [to put her] effectively in exile for life”.
In written submissions, Ms Knights said there was “overwhelming” evidence that Ms Begum had been “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male”.
The document said the government had confirmed that a man called Mohammed al-Rashed transported Ms Begum and two schoolfriends across the Turkey-Syria border on 20 February 2015.
A book by Richard Kerbaj alleged that he was passing intelligence to Canadian intelligence services at the time but the UK has not confirmed the claim, nor whether British authorities were passed any information before Ms Begum reached Syria.
Lawyers representing the Home Office said there were no errors of law in Mr Javid's decision, and the government did not accept Ms Begum was trafficked.
But a senior official giving evidence to the hearing said that no formal trafficking assessment had been carried out because she was outside the UK’s jurisdiction.
Philip Larkin, deputy head of the Homeland Security Group's special cases unit, said: “No formal trafficking assessment or conclusion was reached, however, the circumstances and factors Ms Begum's representatives would say were relevant were in the home secretary’s advice, and were part of his considerations.”
He said Mr Javid “will have taken a view on the circumstances of her departure from the UK and what had taken place over the intervening four years”.
An MI5 officer, known only as witness E, said the service had made a national security assessment regarding Ms Begum that was considered by Mr Javid.
Asked whether potential trafficking had been considered, he replied: “MI5 are experts in national security threats and not experts on the definition of trafficking or other things.
“Our function was to provide the national security assessment to the Home Office and that's what we did.”
Giving evidence behind a screen, witness E said that the Security Service “recognises that victims can very much be a threat, if indeed someone is a victim of trafficking”.
When asked whether MI5 had sought any expert advice before reaching its conclusion that Ms Begum had travelled to Syria voluntarily, Witness E said: “In my mind, it is not conceivable that an intelligent and articulate 15-year-old could not know what Isis was doing, so in some respects, yes, I do believe she would have known what she was doing and had agency in doing so.”
Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, said in written submissions that the security services “continue to assess that Ms Begum poses a risk to national security”.
“This is a case about national security,” he said, later adding: “This is not a case about trafficking.”
The court was presented with a summary of an MI5 assessment saying that Ms Begum had travelled to join Isis and “aligned herself“ with the group.
Sir James argued that she only left its territory for safety reasons as the so-called caliphate fell, and that press interviews after she was discovered in the al-Hol camp “expressed no remorse”.
Ms Begum is also challenging the removal of her British citizenship on the grounds that it made her “de facto stateless” and that the decision was predetermined.
The hearing, before Mr Justice Jay, is due to finish on Friday, and a ruling will be given at a later date.