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'I don't regret coming here', says British schoolgirl who ran away to join ISIS

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'I don't regret coming here', says British schoolgirl who ran away to join ISIS
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A British woman, who ran away at 15 years old to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, has said in a recent interview that while she doesn't regret leaving, she would now like to return home.

Shamima Begum, now 19, was one of a group of three British schoolgirls who left London for Syria in 2015 after telling her family that she was going on a day out.

Speaking to The Times from al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria, a heavily pregnant Begum said she wanted to return to the UK, as she was worried for the well-being of her unborn child.

She said she had given birth to two other children in her four years with the militant group, but both had since died.

According to the report, Begum spoke with a mixed attitude towards her life in Syria, describing the group's oppression of innocent people, but also her lack of surprise at seeing a severed head for the first time.

Speaking specifically of the time her husband, a Dutch fighter, was tortured for several months following accusations of spying, she said: "There was a lot of similar oppressions of innocent people."

"In some cases fighters who had fought for the caliphate were executed as spies even though they were innocent."

On her first glance of seeing a severed head in a bin, she added: "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."

Despite the oppression and violence witnessed, Begum said she didn't regret leaving.

"I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago," she said. "And I don't regret coming here."

Will she be repatriated to the UK?

Following her interview with The Times, talk has turned to whether Begum could be repatriated to the UK, and whether she would experience any consequences.

David Toube, policy director for the Quilliam Foundation think-tank which focuses on counter-extremism, told Euronews: "The important thing now would be for [Begum] to face justice."

"We don’t have a proactive obligation to go and bring her back," he added. "It is up to her to present herself at the British borders, for the future of her child."

"She's a British citizen, whom on her own account has committed a criminal offence — if she presents herself at the border, she should be arrested and prosecuted," he said.

And it appears the government also holds this position, with Security Minister Ben Wallace telling British media that there were no plans to bring Begum home.

"I'm not risking British lives to go and rescue terrorists in a failed state," Wallace told the BBC.

Back in 2015, Scotland Yard suggested that Begum and her fellow runaways would not face charges on terrorism, should they return.

However, on Thursday morning, Wallace warned that while Begum had a right to return to her country, "anyone who goes out to fight or support organisations such as [IS]... should expect to be interviewed, and should at the very least expect to be prosecuted."

Not the first case

Begum's case is not the first of its kind — Tareena Shakil, a British woman in her twenties, was sentenced to six years in jail after returning from Syria with her child.

Shakil, who is from Birmingham, left the UK for Syria in 2014, where she sent messages to her family to tell them she wanted to die as a martyr.

However, the reality of life in war-torn Syria became too much, and she eventually fled back to the UK, where she was arrested.

But while it may not be the first, many experts have pointed out that Begum's case is still unique.

Nikita Malik, the director of the Centre of Radicalisation and Terrorism, said women returning home usually express remorse for joining IS.

"What is unique in Shamima's case is the lack of remorse," she wrote on Twitter. "It will be a difficult task obtaining evidence to bring her to justice at trial."

Should her age and circumstances be taken into account?

The Quilliam Foundation's David Toube pointed out that "it was a conscious choice [for her] to go" to Syria.

"It's important to remember she is 19 now, and she's had several years of intense exposure to the group's propaganda."

Should she return to the UK, "there needs to be a tailored plan that deals with both her, and the future of her child. In relation to her, the important thing is that she is prosecuted."

"And if convicted, she is afforded opportunities to be de-radicalised," he told Euronews.

However, family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee told Sky News that he believed Begum should be considered a victim, providing no further evidence of illegal activities surfaced.

And Dal Babu, former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, said authorities needed to remember that "these were 15-year-olds who were groomed."

Some experts have pointed out that regardless of activities and circumstances, Begum had still travelled to Syria to show "ideological support."

"These are highly radicalised individuals who lent intangible support to IS through simply being there; their presence in IS territory alone represented a type of moral and propaganda victory for the group," Shiraz Maher, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, wrote on Twitter. "Don’t underestimate how important that was."

"In many senses, the presence of non-combatant migrants represents a distinct form of propaganda of the deed."

"Begum touches on this in her interview saying how it was “a normal life,” out there. These migrants played a role in normalising the abnormal (joining IS)."

For former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, who has specialised in cases of child exploitation and violence against women, the solution was clear.

There are "three types of returnees: disillusioned, disturbed, dangerous — now or later," he wrote.

"Bring her home, investigate, and if there's enough evidence, prosecute. If not, then work with her to rehabilitate."

"Why? Because we abide by the Rule of Law."

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