A 19-year-old British teenager who joined the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group when she was 15 has just given birth in Syria and wants to return to her home country, but will likely be stripped of her citizenship.
Shamima Begum was just 15 when she left London along with two other classmates to join ISIS. Earlier this month, however, a Times journalist found her in a refugee camp. She was then nine months pregnant and told the reporter that she simply wanted to have her baby at home. Her husband, a Dutch convert to Islam, is believed to have surrendered to Syrian troops two weeks earlier.
Begum said that as a housewife in Syria, she had had two other babies who had died of malnutrition and sickness.
Begum's lawyer said the Home Office had written to her mother informing the family of the order. And, while the family may appeal the decision, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would not hesitate to prevent the return of those who joined or supported terrorist groups such as ISIS.
While Begum said she had no regrets about going to Syria, she said the caliphate was over. "They're just getting smaller and smaller and there's so much oppression and corruption going on that I don't really think they deserve victory," she said.
She also admitted that before she left the UK, she was already aware of ISIS' beheadings and other forms of brutality and said she “was okay with it.”
"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," she told the Times.
While in Syria, however, she said she never did anything dangerous, or participated in any propaganda efforts to gain more recruits.
The issue has heated up. On national television, the daughter of two victims of the Manchester bombing expressed anger that Begum would even express a desire to go back to the UK.
Security minister Ben Wallace told BBC Radio that "actions have consequences” and that UK nationals choosing to come back after traveling to ISIS territory should expect to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted for committed terrorist offenses.
"People who went out there often as amateurs are now professional terrorists or professional supporters of terrorism, and we have to make sure we mitigate that threat should they come back," he said.
But a lawyer for the families of the teenagers said they “should be treated as victims, so long as they hadn't committed any further offenses while they are out there," reported CNN.
Meanwhile, an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute said the UK should not only take responsibility in investigating and prosecuting its nationals under the law, but that it needs to provide proper support structures to facilitate their rehabilitation.
Begum's case is not isolated. In the US, two women wish to return home, regretting their decision to join ISIS. Hoda Mothana says that when she was 20, she fooled her parents by telling them she was going on a college trip but actually flew to Turkey. Gwen Polman first studied in Canada before joining the caliphate. Both women now wish to have their passports renewed and win the sympathy of the country they had abandoned, reported the New York Times.
Authorities will decide the best course of action for former terror sympathizers wanting to return, but equally important is ensuring that fewer young people—not only in the UK or US but across the globe including the Philippines—find themselves lured to the extremists' cause.
It is likely terrorist recruiters perform their missions thoroughly and methodically, employing psychological means to attract impressionable young people to join their cause. They can take advantage of technology to amplify their message, social networking to simulate emotional connections, or economic rewards to gain these young people's trust and, eventually, radicalization.
Parents, teachers and other guardians must take steps to ensure that their wards do not come close to such temptations. As Begum's case illustrates, one decision can have irreversible consequences no matter how much one wants to restore things to the way they were.