Teenager who joined the Islamic State and wants to return to UK gives birth in Syria

The 19-year-old woman who left Britain to join the Islamic State group and who recently spoke out about wanting to return home has given birth to a boy in a refugee camp in Syria.

Benjamin MuellerThe New York Times
Published : 18 Feb 2019, 07:32 AM
Updated : 18 Feb 2019, 07:48 AM

The woman, Shamima Begum, had recently fled the last remaining village held by the terrorist group in Syria.

In a televised interview with Sky News on Sunday, Begum asked to be allowed to return to Britain. As another woman cradled her new-born, Begum also defended her actions in Syria, saying she had only taken care of her husband and children and had never made propaganda for the Islamic State group or encouraged others to travel to Syria.

“I think a lot of people should have, like, sympathy toward me for everything I’ve been through,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left. And I just was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child, they let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp forever. It’s not really possible.”

She also said she had no regrets about joining the Islamic State group and that she had been “attracted by the propaganda videos.”

A lawyer for her family, Tasnime Akunjee, said in a statement that though Begum’s family had not spoken directly to her, “we understand that both she and the baby are in good health.”

Begum’s comments set off a fierce debate in Britain about the country’s obligations to a woman who was lured as a 15-year-old student to marry into the Islamic State. She was one of three schoolgirls, including Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, from Bethnal Green Academy in East London who left Britain to travel to Syria in February 2015.

British officials had said soon after they travelled to Syria that the girls would be allowed to return home without facing charges because there was no evidence they had committed terrorism offences. But they held to a harder line this past week, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying that he would not hesitate to prevent the return of those who supported terrorist groups abroad.

It is not clear how Begum may be trying to get home.

Ben Wallace, Britain’s security minister, said this past week that British officials would not help rescue Begum because it was too dangerous to provide consular services in Syria. He warned that anyone who had travelled to support terrorism against the British government’s advice would, upon returning, be “questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted for committing terrorist offences.”

Begum’s parents have said that they would raise their grandchild if their daughter was jailed upon her return.

She has been living in Al Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria since leaving the village of Baghuz, the last speck of land under Islamic State control in Syria, as Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States closed in. Her Dutch husband, an Islamic State fighter whom she married soon after arriving in Raqqa, Syria, surrendered to Syrian fighters allied to the Kurdish-led forces.

On Sunday, The Guardian published an interview with an American woman at the same refugee camp who was captured after fleeing the same territory. Hoda Muthana, 24, told the newspaper that she “deeply regrets” traveling to Syria to join the group and that she wants to return to Alabama with her 18-month-old son.

Thousands of people have been streaming out of the Islamic State’s fast-shrinking territory in recent weeks. The group once ruled an area the size of Britain, but that is now all but gone.

Before giving birth, Begum told The Times of London that she had lost two children — an 8-month-old son and a daughter who was nearly 2 — to illness and malnutrition in recent months, and that she feared for her then-unborn child.

© 2019 New York Times News Service