ISIS bride Shamima Begum blocked from returning to UK to fight for British citizenship

Tristan Kirk
·3-min read
<p>Shamima Begum</p> (PA)

Shamima Begum


ISIS bride Shamima Begum has been blocked by top judges from returning to the UK to fight for her British citizenship, in an emphatic victory for the government’s battle against terrorism.

Begum was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she ran away from her east London family home to join Islamic State terrorists in Syria in February 2015.

When she was discovered in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019, then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of British citizenship on national security grounds.

The Court of Appeal ruled last July that Begum should be allowed back into the UK to fight an appeal, but when the legal battle reached the Supreme Court the government argued Begum’s return would increase the risk of a terrorist attack on British soil.

Delivering a ruling this morning that Begum cannot return to the UK to challenge Mr Javid’s decision, Lord Reed said the Court of Appeal had made four errors in its decision.

“(The Court of Appeal) made its own assessment of the requirements of national security and preferred it to that of the Home Secretary”, he said.

“This was despite the absence of any relevant evidence before it or any relevant findings of fact from the court below.

“It didn’t give the Home Secretary’s assessment the respect it should have received, given it is the Home Secretary who is charged by Parliament with the responsibility for making such assessments and is democratically accountable to Parliament for the discharged of that responsibility.”

The ruling is an emphatic victory for the government in the Begum case, vindicating its decision to strip her of citizenship and fight hard to maintain that position.

Begum was one of three pupils from Bethnal Green Academy who flew from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.

Embedded with Islamic State, she married jihadi fighter Yago Riedijk within ten days of arriving in Syria and had two children – both of whom have since died.

Begum was heavily pregnant with her third child when, in February 2019, she was interviewed in a Syrian refugee camp by a journalist for The Times, expressing a wish to return to the UK.

Mr Javid’s decision to strip Begum of citizenship was upheld by a tribunal, but the Court of Appeal last July ruled: “The only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal”.

Challenging that decision, the government’s barrister Sir James Eadie QC argued Begum continues to “pose a real and current threat to national security”.

“The threat is real and serious, whatever sympathy might be generated by the age of the person when they travelled”, he said.

Sir James said one of Britain’s tools for tackling terrorist threats is to make it “very difficult for them to return” after joining Islamic State, and this would be blunted if Begum came back to the UK.

But Lord Pannick QC, leading Begum’s legal team, told a hearing last November that Begum is only accused of having “aligned with IS” rather than becoming an active fighter.

Begum says she left Raqqa with her husband in 2017, and she is currently in the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria under the watch of armed guards. Lord Pannick said the Syrian Democratic Forces “do not permit visits from lawyers nor do they permit detainees to speak to lawyers”.

The government had also argued Begum is the architect of her own “dire” situation, and insisted she could be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship.

The Supreme Court ruled the Court of Appeal had made a mistake in its assessment of cases when rights of appeal conflict with national security considerations, and also made a mistake when looking at the Home Secretary’s human rights policy.

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