Shamima Begum was ‘child trafficking victim’ who was smuggled into Syria to have sex with adult men, her lawyer claims – as MI5 agent says ISIS bride ‘would have known what she was doing’

  • Shamima Begum appealing to overthrow decision to revoke her UK citizenship 
  • Her lawyers are arguing she should have been treated as child trafficking victim  
  • But MI5 agent said it’s ‘inconceivable’ she didn’t know ISIS was terrorist group

Shamima Begum has launched a fresh appeal over the loss of her UK citizenship by claiming she was trafficked into Syria as a child to have sex with older men. 

Her lawyers have argued that Ms Begum, now 23, was influenced by a ‘determined and effective ISIS propaganda machine’, and should have been treated as a child trafficking victim. 

Dan Squires KC said: ‘We can use euphemisms such as jihadi bride or marriage but the purpose of bringing these girls across was so that they could have sex with adult men’. 

But this argument was rejected by an MI5 witness, who said it was ‘inconceivable’ Ms Begum did not know she was joining a terrorist group when, aged 15, she left her home in Bethnal Green, east London, with two fellow pupils Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana in 2015. 

Begum (pictured in 2022) was 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, east London, with two fellow pupils Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana to join the Islamic State in Syria in 2015.

Ms Begum’s latest attempt to overthrow the decision to revoke her UK citizenship began today – the first of a five-day hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

In Syria she married Yago Reidijk, an ISIS fighter from the Netherlands, and had three children, all of whom died as infants.

Mr Squires said trafficking is legally defined as the ‘recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons for the purposes of exploitation’, including ‘sexual exploitation.’

‘The evidence is overwhelming that she was recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria by ISIS for the purpose of sexual exploitation and marriage to an adult male – and she was, indeed, married to an adult, significantly older than herself, within days of her arrival in Syria, falling pregnant soon after.

‘In doing so, she was following a well-known pattern by which ISIS cynically recruited and groomed female children, as young as 14, so that they could be offered as wives to adult men.’

But a witness from MI5, referred to as Witness E, said they would use ‘the word radicalise instead [of grooming]’.

When asked whether the Security Service considered trafficking in their national security threat assessment of Ms Begum, Witness E told the tribunal: ‘MI5 are expert in national security and not experts in other things such as trafficking – those are best left to people with qualifications in those areas.

Ms Begum was 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, east London, with two fellow pupils Amira Abase (left) and Kadiza Sultana (centre) to join the Islamic State in Syria in 2015

‘Our function was to provide the national security threat to the Home Office and that is what we did.

‘We assess whether someone is a threat and it is important to note that victims very much can be threats if someone is indeed a victim of trafficking.’

He added: ‘In our opinion it is inconceivable that someone would not know what ISIL was doing as a terrorist organisation at the time.’

He cited the terrorist attack by ISIS on Camp Speicher in which over 1,000 Iraqi cadets were killed, the genocide of the Yazidis in Sinjar and the executions of hostages as well as an ISIS attack on a Jewish supermarket near Paris.

‘In my mind and that of colleagues, it is inconceivable that a 15-year-old, an A star pupil, intelligent, articulate and presumably critical thinking individual, would not know what ISIL was about.

‘In some respect I do believe she would have known what she was doing and had agency in doing so.’

Philip Larkin, a witness for the Home Office, told the hearing that there had been ‘no formal conclusion’ on whether Ms Begum was a victim of human trafficking.

‘The Home Secretary wasn’t and isn’t in a position to take a formal view,’ he said.

In February 2019, Ms Begum was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp (pictured)

Samantha Knights KC, representing Ms Begum, argued that she was a ‘British child aged 15 who was persuaded by a determined and effective ISIS propaganda machine to follow a pre-existing route and provide a marriage for an ISIS fighter.’

Ms Begum’s transfer into Syria, across the Turkish border, was assisted by a Canadian double agent, the lawyer added.

She called the case ‘extraordinary’ and said Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary who deprived her of her citizenship, had taken ‘over-hasty steps,’ less than a week after Ms Begum gave her first interview to the media from detention in Syria.

In February 2019, Ms Begum was found nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp and her UK citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly afterwards.

The 23-year-old has denied any involvement in terror activities and is challenging a government decision to revoke her citizenship.

Among the factors considered in her trial today were comments made by her family to a lawyer, the fact she was present until the fall of the so-called Caliphate, and her own media interviews. 

Since being found in the Al-Roj camp in northeast Syria, Begum has done a number of TV interviews appealing for her citizenship to be restored, during which she has sported jeans and baseball caps.

Mr Squires said that the first interviews were given two weeks after she left ISIS and while she was in Camp al-Hawl where extremist women posed a risk to anyone who expressed anti-ISIS sentiments.

Mr Squires described ISIS as a ‘particularly brutal cult’ in terms of ‘how it controls people, lures children away from parents, brainwashes people.’

Witness E said it was ‘not a description we would use for a terrorist organisation.’

The lawyer said there was a particularly brutal oppression of women, involving lashings amputations and executions

‘As part of state building project they sought to attract recruits from western countries and had a sophisticated and successful system for doing so,’ Mr Squires added.

Shamima Begum pictured at the Al-Roj camp in Northern Syria earlier this year. She is fighting to return to the UK after living at the camp for nearly four years

‘Part of that is exploiting the vulnerability of children and young people and grooming them to join the movement.’

The officer said that ‘to some degree age is almost irrelevant to ISIL in terms of wishing to get people to travel to the Caliphate their propaganda was there for everyone to see and was not solely limited to minors.’

However, Mr Squires insisted that one of the things ISIS ‘cynically groom the vulnerable and young to join their movement.’

‘It is also true that one of the things they did was to groom children in order to offer them as wives to adult men,’ Mr Squires said.

Approximately 60 women and girls had travelled to ISIS-controlled territory, as part of a ‘campaign by Isis to target vulnerable teenagers to become brides for jihadist fighters’, including 15 girls who were aged 20 years or younger, according to figures from the Metropolitan Police.

Among them was Begum’s friend, Sharmeena Begum, who had travelled to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria as a child aged 15 on December 5 2014.

Of the pair who travelled with Ms Begum, Ms Sultana was reportedly killed in a Russian air raid while Ms Abase is missing.

It has since been claimed that she was smuggled into Syria by a Canadian spy.

A Special Immigration Appeals Commission hearing is to start on Monday at Field House tribunal centre, London, and is expected to last five days.

In February 2019, Ms Begum was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp.

Her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly afterwards.

She challenged the Home Office’s decision, but the Supreme Court ruled that she was not allowed leave to enter the UK to pursue her appeal.

Begum continues to be held at the Al Roj camp and has lost three children since travelling to the war zone. 

Of the pair who travelled with Ms Begum, Ms Sultana (left) was reportedly killed in a Russian air raid while Ms Abase (right) is missing

Last summer, during an interview, Ms Begum said she wanted to be brought back to the UK to face charges and added in a direct appeal to the Prime Minister that she could be ‘an asset’ in the fight against terror.

She added that she had been ‘groomed’ to flee to Syria as a ‘dumb’ and impressionable child.

Previously she has spoken about seeing ‘beheaded heads’ in bins but said that this ‘did not faze her’.

This prompted Sir James Eadie KC to brand her a ‘real and current threat to national security’ during a previous legal appeal at the Supreme Court in 2020.

He argued that her ‘radicalisation and desensitisation’ were proved by the comments made, showing her as a continued danger to the public.

However, since that interview in February 2019, Begum has said that she is ‘sorry’ to the UK public for joining IS and said she would ‘rather die’ than go back to them.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, she said: ‘There is no justification for killing people in the name of God. I apologise. I’m sorry.’

She has also opted for baseball caps and jeans instead of the hijab. 

The Telegraph has reported that she will tell the court she is no longer a national security threat as her appeal gets underway, with her lawyers set to argue that she was a victim of child trafficking when she travelled to Syria.  

Shamima Begum pictured as a schoolgirl. She left London for Syria in 2015 with two fellow pupils from the Bethnal Green Academy in east London

It comes amid claims that the three schoolgirls were smuggled into Syria by a Canadian spy. 

According to the BBC and The Times, Mohammed Al Rasheed, who is alleged to have been a double agent working for the Canadians, met the girls in Turkey before taking them to Syria in February 2015.

Both news organisations reported that Rasheed was providing information to Canadian intelligence while smuggling people to IS, with The Times quoting the book The Secret History Of The Five Eyes.

Begum family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee previously said in a statement: ‘Shamima Begum will have a hearing in the SIAC (Special Immigration Appeals Commission) court, where one of the main arguments will be that when former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped Shamima Begum of her citizenship leaving her in Syria, he did not consider that she was a victim of trafficking.

‘The UK has international obligations as to how we view a trafficked person and what culpability we prescribed to them for their actions.’

Ahead of the beginning of her appeal on Monday morning, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it was ‘difficult’ for him to comment on her case at this stage.

However, he said people should always have an ‘open mind’ about how to respond when teenagers make mistakes.

He told Sky News: ‘It’s difficult for me to comment, I’m afraid… because we’re waiting for the court’s judgment later today.

‘Once we hear that, then I’m happy to come on your programme and speak to you.

‘I do think as a fundamental principle there will be cases, rare cases… where people do things and make choices which undermine the UK interest to such an extent that it is right for the Home Secretary to have the power to remove their passport.’

Asked if there is ever room to reconsider where teenagers make mistakes, he said: ‘Well, I think you should always have an open mind, but it depends on the scale of the mistake and the harm that that individual did or could have done to UK interests abroad.

‘I don’t want to comment too much on this case, if that’s OK, because we’ll find out later today what the court’s decision was.’

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