Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum
Born (1999-08-25) 25 August 1999 (age 21)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom (revoked),[2] Bangladesh (disputed)[3]
Yago Riedijk
(m. 2015)
Children3 (all deceased)

Shamima Begum (born 25 August 1999)[4] is a denaturalised British-born woman, who left the UK aged 15[2] to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Her intention to return to the UK in 2019 resulted in a public debate about the handling of returning jihadists. In February 2019, the British government issued an order revoking her British citizenship.[5] It later stated that she would never be allowed to return.[6]

In July 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that Begum should be permitted to return to the UK in order to fairly contest this decision by instructing lawyers properly.[7] This ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court which, on 26 February 2021, ruled unanimously against her, thus reversing the decision of the Court of Appeal.[8][9]


Main entrance of Mulberry Academy Shoreditch, known at the time of Begum's disappearance as Bethnal Green Academy

Begum was born in England to parents of Bangladeshi origin and citizenship.[3] She was raised in the Bethnal Green area of Tower Hamlets, East London where she received her secondary education at the Bethnal Green Academy.[10] Together with her friends Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, she left the UK in February 2015, at the age of 15. They travelled via Turkey to join the Daesh in Syria.[11][12]

Shortly after her departure, Begum's sister expressed hope that she and her school friends had travelled to ISIL territory only to bring back their friend Sharmeena Begum (no relation), who had travelled there in 2014.[13]

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said in February 2015 that everyone hoped and prayed for the safe return of the three girls to the UK.[14]

Ten days after arriving in Syria, Begum married Dutch-born Yago Riedijk, a convert to Islam, who had arrived in Syria in October 2014.[15][16] This marriage may not be recognised under Dutch law since she was underage at that time.[17] She gave birth to three children, all of whom died young; her youngest child was born in a refugee camp in February 2019 and, by March 2019, had died of a lung infection.[18][19]

The Daily Telegraph reported that Begum was an "enforcer" in ISIL's "morality police", and tried to recruit other young women to join the jihadist group.[20] She was allowed to carry a Kalashnikov rifle and earned a reputation as a strict enforcer of ISIL's laws, such as dress codes for women. An anti-ISIL activist told The Independent that there are separate allegations of "Begum [stitching] suicide bombers into explosive vests so they could not be removed without detonating".[21]

Intended return

Media appearance

On 13 February 2019, The Times' war correspondent Anthony Loyd found Begum at the al-Hawl refugee camp in Northern Syria, in what one newspaper described as "scoop of the decade".[22] When interviewed, Begum revealed that she was nine months pregnant and hoped to return to the UK to raise her child, but did not regret her decision to join ISIL. She said she had been unfazed by seeing the head of a beheaded man as he was "an enemy of Islam", but believes that ISIL did not deserve victory because of their corruption and oppression.[23] When asked if she would be extracted from Syria, Security Minister Ben Wallace said, "I'm not putting at risk British people's lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state."[24] Three days after Loyd found her, Begum gave birth to a boy.[18]

Begum was interviewed by BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville on 18 February. During the interview, Begum asked for forgiveness and claimed that she still supports "some British values". She said she was inspired to join ISIL by videos of fighters beheading hostages and also of "the good life" under the group. However, Sommerville noted that she continues to espouse the ISIL ideology and to try to justify its atrocities. When asked about the Manchester Arena bombing, she claimed it was wrong to kill innocent people, but that ISIL considered it justified as retaliation for the coalition bombing of ISIL-held areas. When questioned about rape, enslavement and murder of Yazidi women, she claimed, "Shia do the same in Iraq".[25]


The following day, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that an order had been made with the intention of stripping Begum of her British citizenship.[5] The UK government could not legally deprive her of British citizenship if doing so would leave her stateless. However, the UK government contended that Begum was eligible for citizenship of Bangladesh and was not left stateless.[26][5] The Government of Bangladesh, however, stated that Begum does not currently hold Bangladeshi citizenship and would not be allowed to enter the country.[3][27][28]

British law does not permit an individual to be made stateless by a deprivation decision and Begum had the right to appeal against the Home Office's decision to revoke her UK citizenship.[5] Javid's decision was criticised by Begum's immediate family members, who sought to stop it through legal methods, but her brother-in-law Muhammad Rahman urged the public to support the government decision. He said: "The information they have is to the best of their ability and the British people should support it."[29] Begum said that she might consider applying for Dutch citizenship.[30][31]

On 24 February, her father Ahmed Ali said, "If she at least admitted she made a mistake then I would feel sorry for her and other people would feel sorry for her, but she does not accept her wrong." Begum reacted by stating that she regretted speaking to the media and said the UK is making an example out of her.[32]

Begum's lawyer claimed on 1 March that Begum and her son were moved from a Syrian refugee camp and relocated to another after threats against her were made.[33]

On 3 March, Yago Riedijk, her ISIL husband, was interviewed in a Kurdish detention centre in Syria by the BBC and claimed that he wishes to return to the Netherlands with Begum.[17] The Dutch government stated that they do not plan to help repatriate him or reunite his family.[34]

On 8 March, it was reported that spokespeople for the Syrian Democratic Forces had confirmed that Begum's son Jarrah, whose imminent birth had apparently motivated her desire to return to the UK, had died in hospital the previous day. The cause of death was given as pneumonia in the medical certificate.[19] Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith criticised the UK government's decision to block Begum's return to the UK for her son's death.[35]

A government spokesman said that, "The death of any child is tragic and deeply distressing for the family". Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reiterated the position given by Ben Wallace on the risk of sending officials to recover her, and stated, "Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh, she was going into a country where there was no embassy, there was no consular assistance, and I'm afraid those decisions, awful though it is, they do have consequences," but he also stated that the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are trying to rescue ISIL brides and the decisions to withdraw citizenship from individuals were based on evidence.[36]

Legal case against the British Government

The main difficulty surrounding Begum's pursuit of citizenship in order to return to the United Kingdom is the contrasting interpretations and perspectives around making her stateless (without citizenship in any country). Making citizens stateless is unlawful according to both UK national Law (British Nationality Act 1981 section 40[37]) and UN international law (1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness), of which the UK is a signatory. Shamima Begum was born a British citizen under UK law as her father (despite having already left the UK) had indefinite leave to remain and so had the "settled in the United Kingdom" status that the British Nationality Act 1981 describes as being a satisfactory prerequisite to allow Begum to be born a British citizen.[38][39]

Chronology of Begum's pursuit of citizenship

On 15 April, it was reported that Begum had been granted Legal Aid to fight the revocation of her British citizenship. Hunt described the Legal Aid Agency's decision as "very uncomfortable", but said that the UK is "a country that believes that people with limited means should have access to the resources of the state if they want to challenge the decisions the state has made about them".[40]

On 3 May, Bangladeshi foreign minister Abdul Momen repeated their position on Begum but further added that if she entered Bangladesh she would face the death penalty due to the nation's "zero tolerance policy" towards terrorism.[41]

In August 2019, the Metropolitan Police requested media organisations that had interviewed Begum—the BBC, ITN, Sky News and The Times—to surrender any unpublished material they may hold about Begum. They seek disclosure under the Terrorism Act 2000 in order to prepare potential prosecution.[42]

Her lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, travelled to Kurdish occupied Syria to meet Begum but was turned away.[43]

On 16 July 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that Begum could return to the UK to contest the government's decision to rescind her British citizenship. It was unclear how she would return to the UK to plead her case, as the British government had previously stated that it would never let her return.[44]

On 26 February 2021, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in Begum v Home Secretary decided in favour of the Home Secretary on all grounds.[8][9]

See also


  1. ^ "Who is Shamima Begum and how do you lose your UK citizenship?". BBC News. 17 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Shamima Begum loses appeal over citizenship". BBC News. 7 February 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Shamima Begum will not be allowed here, Bangladesh says". BBC News. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2019. Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen and there is "no question" of her being allowed into the country, Bangladesh's ministry of foreign affairs has said.
  4. ^ "Royal Court of Justice Judgement" (PDF). 16 July 2020 – via
  5. ^ a b c d "What is Shamima Begum's legal status?". BBC News. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2019. Shamima Begum - the schoolgirl who fled London to join the Islamic State group in Syria - has been stripped of her UK citizenship after expressing a desire to return.
  6. ^ Wyatt, Tim (29 September 2019). "Isis bride Shamima Begum will never be allowed to return to UK, says government". The Independent.
  7. ^ "Shamima Begum can return for UK citizenship fight". BBC News. 16 July 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Shamima Begum: 'IS bride' cannot return to UK, court rules". BBC News. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Begum (Respondent) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant)". The Supreme Court. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  10. ^ Mohdin, Aamna (14 February 2019). "Let Shamima Begum come back, say Bethnal Green residents". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  11. ^ Walton, Gregory (23 March 2015). "Isil defector girls' families go to Turkey to probe disappearance". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  12. ^ Barrett, David (10 March 2015). "Three 'Jihadi brides' from London who travelled to Syria will not face terrorism charges if they return". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  13. ^ "Syria girls: Families 'cannot stop crying'". BBC News. 22 February 2015. Archived from the original on 23 October 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2015. She said Shamima had been 'upset' after a friend from her school left for Syria and said the family was hoping the girls had 'gone to go and bring her back'.
  14. ^ Davis, Anna. "Education Secretary's letter of support to 'IS School'". Evening Standard. p. 2.
  15. ^ "Schoolgirls who feld home to join Isis are feared dead by their families". London Evening Standard. 6 August 2017. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  16. ^ Brown, David; Simpson, John (15 February 2019). "Shamima Begum's Dutch husband is convicted terrorist". The Times. Arnhem, Netherlands. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Shamima Begum: 'We should live in Holland' says IS husband". BBC News. 3 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  18. ^ a b Addley, Esther; Boffey, Daniel (21 February 2019). "Shamima Begum's family hope to bring her baby to UK". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Shamima Begum: IS teenager's baby son has died, SDF confirms". BBC News. 8 March 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  20. ^ Mendick, Robert (8 April 2019). "Shamima Begum was a cruel enforcer in ISIL's morality police–witness said". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  21. ^ Dearden, Lizzie; Hall, Richard (8 April 2019). "Shamima Begum 'was member of feared ISIL morality police' in Syria". The Independent. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  22. ^ Walker, James (14 February 2019). "Times website and app break on day it secures 'major scoop' on London schoolgirl who joined ISIS". Press Gazette. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  23. ^ Loyd, Anthony (13 February 2019). "Shamima Begum: Bring me home, says Bethnal Green girl who left to join Isis". The Times. Al-Hawl, Northern Syria. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  24. ^ Walker, Amy; Wintour, Patrick (14 February 2019). "UK will not put officials at risk to rescue Isis Britons, says minister". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  25. ^ "Shamima Begum: 'I didn't want to be IS poster girl'". BBC News. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  26. ^ "Shamima Begum: IS teenager to lose UK citizenship". BBC News. 20 February 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  27. ^ "Shamima Begum: Moment Islamic State bride learns she's not going home to Britain". BBC News. 20 February 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  28. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (20 February 2019). "Bangladesh says Isis bride Shamima Begum is not a citizen and 'nothing to do with us'". The Independent. Retrieved 24 February 2019. Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen and cannot enter the country, its government has said, meaning the UK has made her stateless.
  29. ^ Mellor, Joe (20 February 2019). "Brother in law of Isis bride Shamima Begum has backed the government decision to strip her of her citizenship". The London Economic. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  30. ^ "'ISIL bride' Shamima Begum says she might seek Dutch citizenship". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  31. ^ ITV News (20 February 2019), Shamima Begum interview: The moment IS bride learns she's lost UK citizenship | ITV News, retrieved 21 February 2019
  32. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (24 February 2019). "Shamima Begum's father 'doesn't have problem' with daughter's citizenship being removed". The Independent. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  33. ^ Weaver, Matthew; Parveen, Nazia (1 March 2019). "Shamima Begum moved after threats in Syria camp, says lawyer". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  34. ^ "Jihadi Yago Riedijk 'will not be allowed to live with his family in Netherlands'". 4 March 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  35. ^ Martin Chulov; Nazia Parveen; Mohammed Rasool (8 March 2019). "Shamima Begum: baby son dies in Syrian refugee camp". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2019. Following news of the boy’s death, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, also criticised Javid’s decision. She tweeted: 'It is against international law to make someone stateless, and now an innocent child has died as a result of a British woman being stripped of her citizenship. This is callous and inhumane.'
  36. ^ "Shamima Begum: IS bride set to be granted legal aid". BBC News. 10 March 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  37. ^ "British Nationality Act 1981". Retrieved 9 September 2020. The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good."
    "The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (2) if he is satisfied that the order would make a person stateless."
    "But that does not prevent the Secretary of State from making an order under subsection (2) to deprive a person of a citizenship status if—(c)the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.
  38. ^ Wheeler, Marina (7 February 2020). "Begum still barred from returning to UK or reclaiming British citizenship". UK Human Rights Blog. Retrieved 9 August 2020. Ms. Begum’s parents were born in Bangladesh, married there and remained Bangladeshi citizens. Her father came to the UK in 1975 but had since returned to Bangladesh. Ms Begum was born in the UK in 1999. She was a British citizen at birth because at that time one of her parents – her father – had Indefinite Leave to Remain.
  39. ^ "British Nationality Act 1981". Retrieved 9 August 2020. A person born in the United Kingdom after commencement... shall be a British citizen if at the time of the birth his father or mother is—
    (a) a British citizen; or
    (b) settled in the United Kingdom...
  40. ^ "Shamima Begum: 'Not safe' to rescue IS bride's baby, says Hunt". BBC News. 15 April 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  41. ^ "Shamima Begum: IS bride 'would face death penalty in Bangladesh'". BBC News. 3 May 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  42. ^ Waterson, Jim (6 August 2019). "Met police seek access to journalists' material on Shamima Begum". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  43. ^ "ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID". The Media Line. 22 May 2020. Retrieved 23 May 2020. Tasnime Akunjee, Attorney for Shamima Begum’s family has traveled to SDF territory only to be briefly detained and told he could not see his client. He has been fighting the case of Shamima’s repatriation to the UK and will discuss the moral and legal issues regarding a minor joining a terrorist group, issues of detaining an individual without charges, stripping citizenship, and the cruelties involved in not bringing her infant back to the UK for life-saving medical care.
  44. ^ "Shamima Begum can return for UK citizenship fight". BBC News. 16 July 2020.


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