London: Shamima Begum the London-born Bangladeshi-origin woman who fled the UK to join the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist network in Syria as a teenager, said she is sorry ‘from the bottom of my heart’ and pleaded with Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a chance to face the UK justice system.
In her first live interview from the Al Roj refugee camp in Syria for ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ programme on Wednesday, the 22-year-old said she would accept any sentence handed down if she were tried in a UK court as she would ‘rather die than go back to ISIS’ and also offered to help Britain combat terrorism. She insisted she was “groomed and taken advantage of and manipulated” and that her role with the terror outfit was only to be a “mother and a wife”.
“The reason I came to Syria was not for violent reasons. At the time I did not know it was a death cult, I thought it was an Islamic community I was joining,” she said.
“I am willing to go to court and face the people who made these claims and refute these claims, because I know I did nothing in IS but be a mother and a wife. These claims are being made to make me look worse because the government do not have anything on me,” Begum said, with reference to claims she engaged in terrorist acts.
Begum, who was interviewed wearing a baseball cap and dressed in a western outfit, denied it was a publicity stunt to remove her hijab. “I have not been wearing hijab for maybe more than a year now. I took it off for myself, because I felt very constricted in the hijab, I felt like I was not myself,” she said.
Begum, who left her east London home as a schoolgirl in 2015 to join ISIS, remains embroiled in a complex legal battle after her British citizenship was revoked in 2019 by then UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid.
Now, as Health Secretary, Javid stood by his decision: “I won’t go into details of the case, but what I will say is that you certainly haven’t seen what I saw. If you did know what I knew, because you are sensible, responsible people, you would have made exactly the same decision of that I have no doubt.”
Begum is challenging the decision to take away her citizenship on national security grounds, but has been refused permission by the UK courts to return while the process takes place.
Begum, who married a Dutch ISIS fighter and whose three young children died in Syria, claimed she had been unable to leave the group as she didn’t have the connections or enough money.
Asked for a message to British Prime Minister Johnson, Begum said she could help him in his “fight against terrorism because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing”.
She said: “I want to say that you are clearly struggling with extremism and terrorism in your country. And I want to help with that by giving my own experience with these extremists and what they say and how they persuade people to do what they do and to come to places like Syria. I think I could very much help you in your fight against terrorism, because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.”
Begum insisted the only crime she committed was being “dumb enough” to come to ISIS. “Honestly, the only crime I think I committed was being dumb enough to come to ISIS, and even that can be refuted because I was 15 when I came, and you can’t, you know, judge a 15-year-old for making a mistake which he or she very quickly regretted making,” she said.