Families say 'brainwashed' jihadi brides should be forgiven
World / 15 February 2019, 8:50pm / EMINE SINMAZ, XANTHA LEATHAM, NEIL SEARS AND REBECCA CAMBER
London - The families of two other Bethnal Green Academy schoolgirls who ran away to become Islamic State jihadi brides begged them to "come home" on Thursday.
The father of Sharmeena Begum – the first teenager from the East London school to flee to Syria – urged the British government to forgive her.
Begum, who loved watching EastEnders and wanted to be a doctor, vanished in December 2015 at the age of 15.
Two months later she was joined in Raqqa, the self-styled capital of the Islamic State, by her best friends Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum.
Last night Sharmeena’s father Mohammad Uddin said the girls should be forgiven because they were radicalised and brainwashed. A local imam disagreed, sayinig they were "a danger to the community".
Mr Uddin, a restaurant worker, said: "They should all be allowed to come home. When they went to Syria they were not mature and they had been radicalised.
"They were not able to form their own opinions because they had been brainwashed. They went when they were very young and it’s not a big deal if they realise what they did is wrong. We should forgive them.
"If they do the wrong thing and then realise 'that was totally wrong' then they should be forgiven. If my daughter could come home and say 'forgive me', I would forgive her, obviously."
Abase’s father Hussen claimed that his daughter fled to Syria on a humanitarian mission after seeing images of civilians starving on the internet. He urged the government to let her and the others back in to the country, insisting: "They are no threat to us."
Mr Abase, 52, a security guard who came to Britain as a refugee from Ethiopia in 1999, said: "The girls should be allowed to come back. When they left the country they were teenagers. They [British officials] have to understand that.
"She is a naturally generous person. She saw in the media and on the internet [that] people over there are starving and I think she wanted to go and help. I have had no contact with her since she left. It’s been very hard on my family – I have a wife and two other children, aged 13 and 17. They all miss her. It was just a mistake that the girls left their families to go to a place like that."
Shamima Begum, the third surviving Bethnal Green schoolgirl, who is pregnant with her third child, was tracked down by The Times to a refugee camp in northern Syria. Her family echoed the words of Mr Uddin and Mr Abase and pleaded with the Government to allow her to return to the UK.
Her sister Renu told ITV News: "She’s pregnant and vulnerable, and it’s important we get her out of al-Hawl camp and home as soon as possible. We hope the British government will help us bring her home to us where she belongs. This news has come to us as a shock."
Tasnime Akunjee, the family’s lawyer, added: "The family do not want to comment, they are trying to process it at the moment."
Mr Akunjee said he was not sure if Begum’s family are considering whether they would take custody of her child if it was removed from her care on her return to the UK.
"That’s something they would have to work out for themselves," he said. "My role with the family is trying to bring Shamima back."
When asked if Shamima could be prosecuted, he said: ‘The question would be has she committed any offences? It depends on the evidence there is of her activities.
"These girls were children that were groomed and once someone is out there it is difficult to try to come back ... sometimes it can be lethal."
Mr Uddin issued an emotional plea to his daughter, saying: ‘All I want is for you to come home. I last heard from Sharmeena two or three months ago.
"She sent me a WhatsApp message. She said: 'I’m okay, how are you?' But by the time I saw the message I couldn’t contact her back, the number wasn’t going through. I think she [sent messages] from internet cafes. She hasn’t told me she wants to come home or anything, just a few messages."
The family of Sultana, who is believed to have been killed by a Russian airstrike on Raqqa in 2016, did not want to comment.
East London community leaders in the area warned against letting the girls return. Moulana Malik, the imam at the Baitul Aman mosque and cultural centre in Bethnal Green, said: "For the peace of the country we think that for all types of criminal people we don’t want them to come back into the community or at large.
"They are a danger. They think bad things – their views are not in line with the peace of the community. We think the girls were brainwashed. Online and here as well, some people may have communicated bad thoughts to them. They are a danger for the community."
Mr Abase himself came under fire after it emerged that he had been part of a flag-burning mob outside the US embassy in London in 2012.
Also at the rally were hate cleric Anjem Choudary and Michael Adebowale, one of the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby. Mr Abase admitted going to two further rallies, with his impressionable daughter in tow.
The mother of the white British Islamic convert known as ‘Jihadi Jack’ joined the calls for Shamima Begum to be allowed back into Britain. Sally Letts, 55, said at her Oxford home: "Of course she should allowed back. She was a child, she was groomed and abused and now they want to judge her as an adult!"
Jack Letts, 22, went to IS territory and was captured two years ago by Kurdish fighters. He is awaiting trial in northern Syria.
Letts denies joining the terror group and his parents deny three charges of financially aiding terrorism. They are due to go on trial at the Old Bailey in May They allege Letts went to the region for "religious and humanitarian reasons".