Does Shamima Begum show that Britain needs to focus more on preventing online grooming?

Sabrine Donohoe

Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum, dubbed “jihadi bride” by British media, left her home in East London at 15 years old to join ISIS after being groomed online. She married her husband, a Dutch ISIS recruit named Yago Riedijk, just 10 days after arriving in Raqqa in February 2015. Begum recently gave birth to their third child, whom she claims is unwell.

The couple’s daughter died some weeks ago, as well as their first-born last year. On this basis, Begum is pleading to be granted access to the UK so she can raise her son, but has said she hopes to reunite with her convicted terrorist husband.

An estimated 400 people have now returned to the UK after travelling to Syria to join ISIS. The loopholes in the current law allow many to go unprosecuted, as just 40 of the 400 faced the law upon their return. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid is aiming to change this with a Treason Act, which many MPs are now backing after Begum’s case rose to the forefront. The Act would see returning ISIS fighters in jail, following Australia and New Zealand’s recent changes in treason laws for this purpose.

Begum is now held in a Kurdish detention camp in Northern Syria. Before admitting she regretted talking to the media as it may harm her plea, Begum openly claimed she did not regret joining ISIS and that the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 was justified. Begum did not help her cause when she told the Daily Mail that her husband “loved his children a lot … when I lost them I think it had a bigger effect on him than me”.

Although Begum was groomed as a child, her recent comments and the seeming lack of empathy for the loss of her own children and the lives lost in the hands of ISIS will make it difficult for officials to have “a bit of mercy” in their hearts. Apart from the feared security threat that Begum may pose, the backlash she is already receiving online represents the backlash she would receive in her community, even after she is potentially rehabilitated.

In some ways similar to Begum, British ISIS recruit Jack Letts is now asking to be allowed entry to the UK after he fled to Syria in 2014. Letts has shown a similar lack of remorse for his actions and condemnation for ISIS, after he initially condoned the November 2015 Bataclan attacks in Paris. He has also shown a similar dose of self-pity, his defending line being to see his mother, eat pasties, and watch Doctor Who.

Although it is illegal under British law to make someone stateless, Begum’s British citizenship was recently stripped because of the lack of remorse shown for her actions. She does not have Bangladeshi status and has said she has “no desire” to go to Bangladesh, a country which has refused to accept her. This may mean that Begum may be in a state of limbo until the appropriate services to prosecute and rehabilitate her in the UK become available.

It may be obvious that Britain needs to put greater manpower in intercepting the online grooming of children and brainwashing of adults, and perhaps this case will spur on that decision. As for the welfare of Shamima Begum’s new-born child, it is only fair that an innocent child receives the appropriate care in Britain.

Sabrine Donohoe 

Image credit: BBC