The pregnant 19-year-old left the UK voluntarily, but is also a victim who should be helped to come back
The remarks made by the 19-year-old British Islamic State recruit Shamima Begum to a journalist in a refugee camp in eastern Syria are horrifying. She described being unmoved by the sight of a severed head, showed no sympathy for executed hostages, and said she had no regrets about her decision to leave the UK. We do not yet know whether she played any role during her four years with Islamic State other than that of a wife and mother. Other western recruits have acted as propagandists and recruiters. Ms Begum, who is heavily pregnant, wants to return to the UK and is entitled to do so, as security minister Ben Wallace has acknowledged. Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was Metropolitan police commissioner when the teenager and two friends left their homes in Bethnal Green, east London, in 2015, said then that the girls had “no reason to fear” returning, provided they had not committed terrorist offences. The official tone has now changed, with Mr Wallace saying on Thursday that he would not risk British lives to rescue UK citizens from Syria.
Ms Begum, who married a Dutch Islamic State fighter 10 days after arriving in Raqqa, told the Times she had lost two young children to illness, lived through six months during which her husband was imprisoned and tortured, and witnessed unimaginable brutality. Whatever her degree of culpability, she and her friends, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, were children when they left the UK and are thought to have been groomed. Ms Sultana is reported to have wanted to return, but been too afraid following the murder of another jihadi bride who tried to escape. Mr Sultana is thought to have been killed in an airstrike three years ago.