London - Britain could be forced to take back a runaway Islamic State schoolgirl – and dozens of other jihadi brides fleeing their collapsing caliphate.
Ministers on Thursday vowed not to risk UK lives to rescue pregnant teenager Shamima Begum, who is begging to come home despite having ‘no regrets’ about her four years in Syria.
But if the 19-year-old makes it across borders to a British consulate, officials will have little choice but to allow her home so the NHS can care for her baby. The Mail understands dozens more jihadi brides are poised to come back to Britain as their medieval caliphate is destroyed.
Begum was just 15 when she and two other pupils from Bethnal Green Academy in London flew to Syria in 2015 to marry IS fighters.
This week she shocked the world again by showing up at a refugee camp in northern Syria, having fled the terror group’s final battle. Nine months pregnant, she declared no remorse over joining IS but revealed her first two children had died. She now wants NHS help for her third baby.
On Thursday night her mother in East London broke down in tears after speaking to her long-lost daughter by phone – telling her to ‘just come home’.
Begum’s brother-in-law said he understood ‘why people in this country are angry and don’t want her back’, but appealed for compassion. But there is furious opposition to the idea of Britain welcoming the schoolgirls back when they chose to embrace a terror organisation that horrified the world with videos of hostages such as volunteer aid worker Alan Henning being beheaded.
UK taxpayers could face enormous costs in repatriating the women, who will need to be kept under surveillance as well as being given protection against potential vigilante attacks. As an extraordinary row broke out:
* Mr Henning’s brother said it would be ‘disgusting’ if Begum was allowed home;
* Security minister Ben Wallace said ‘actions have consequences’ but admitted as a British citizen, ‘she has rights – that’s the reality of it’;
* A former police chief warned Begum could become a ‘lightning rod’ for the far-Right if allowed home;
* A lawyer for the schoolgirl’s family said she should be treated as a victim;
* A Bethnal Green imam said the former schoolgirls were a ‘danger for the community’, but Begum said: ‘I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away.’
In an extraordinary interview, Begum told Anthony Loyd, a correspondent for The Times who found her in the Al-Hawl refugee camp, that ‘I don’t regret coming’ to Syria. She added: ‘When I saw my first severed head in a bin, it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter on the battlefield – an enemy of Islam.’
Begum said that as of two weeks ago, her Bethnal Green classmates Amira Abase and Sharmeena Begum were alive. But both had chosen to stay in the town of Baghuz where IS is being crushed by Kurdish-backed Syrian forces. A fourth girl, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in 2016.
Shamima Begum’s brother-in-law Mohammed Rehman said: ‘The family spoke with Shamima. It was very emotional. There’s a mixture of elation and sorrow. We are happy that she’s alive but sad that things have come to this. She’s lost two children and put us all through a lot of heartache.
‘Shamima’s mother broke down when she heard her voice. I can understand why people in this country are angry and don’t want her back. But we are appealing for compassion.’ Mohammad Uddin, the father of Sharmeena Begum, said the girls should be forgiven because they were ‘radicalised and brainwashed’. Abase’s father, Hussen Abase, said: ‘They are no threat to us.’
Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer for the girls’ families, said they should be ‘seen as victims’. He added: ‘I’m grateful she’s still alive, but she remains in danger.’
But Alan Henning’s brother Reg said Shamima Begum should ‘absolutely not’ be allowed back. Mr Henning, 69, of Bury, Greater Manchester, added: ‘The authorities should take her passport off her. She made her choice, didn’t she? She made her bed and she should lie in it.’
Dr Kim Howells, a former counter-terrorism minister, said: ‘She sounds to be completely unrepentant, she sounds cynical, she said she wasn’t fazed by the sight of these heads in a bin, as she described it. And now she wants to take advantage of the NHS. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be a lobby to get this girl home on humanitarian grounds.’
Sir Peter Fahu, a former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said Begum could become ‘some sort of lightning rod for both Islamic and far-Right extremists’.
Sources said there were dozens of British women and their children in the camps spread across Syria.
Mr Wallace vowed that no diplomats would risk their lives to go and rescue Begum, but admitted: ‘She is eligible for consular assistance if she makes it to a country where there is that – Turkey, Iraq.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said those who went to Syria ‘must be in no doubt they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted’ on their return.Daily Mail