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‘She sounded largely unrepentant’: What happened when Sky News tracked down Shamima Begum | World News

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We had just about given up in the al-Hawl displacement camp in northeastern Syria.

It is not an easy place to get to but we had made the trip in the hope of speaking to the British teenager Shamima Begum.

She arrived at the camp two weeks ago after fleeing the village of Baghouz where IS is making its last stand.

We spoke to the facility’s manager and drank a cup of tea – and another one.



Shamima Begum tells Sky News that people should feel 'sympathy' towards her and that she did not encourage others to come to Syria.



IS bride full interview: I was ok with beheadings

He said they were looking for her in the camp, which now houses 40,000 people, but they were having trouble finding her.

It was the work of The Times reporter Anthony Loyd that had brought us there.

In his interview with the 19-year-old, conducted last week, she had sounded largely unrepentant.

Life under IS had been “normal”, she said. The sight of a severed head in a dustbin, “didn’t faze me at all”.

Critically, the teenager said she wanted to come back to Britain.

She was pregnant and wanted to bring up the child there.

:: Read the full interview transcript here

Sky correspondent John Sparkes tracked Begum down to a hospital in Syria
Image:
Sky correspondent John Sparkes tracked Begum down to a hospital in Syria

Her comments generated a furious debate in the UK.

Some say Shamima Begum should be banned for treason – others argue she deserves a second chance.

Top politicians have also weighed in with Home Secretary Sajid Javid promising that he “will not hesitate” to keep people like the 19-year-old out of the country.

I had my own list of questions for her.

Was the former Bethnal Green schoolgirl aware of the national debate now centring on her future?

Would she choose a more apologetic approach when explaining her involvement in IS?

Most importantly perhaps, did she think she could be rehabilitated?

shamima begum and baby in syria refugee camp
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Shamima begum and her new baby in the refugee camp

After three hours or so at the camp office I did not think I would get a chance to ask her those questions, but we heard a whisper from a camp worker that she might have been taken to a local hospital for treatment.

We walked over the place where the ambulances are parked and my colleague poked his head in a portacabin.

Shamima Begum was there, sitting on a table, a few hours after giving birth to a baby boy.

“Would you like do an interview?” asked my colleague.

“We are from Sky News.”

“No way. Really?” came the response in an earthy London accent.

We spoke to the teenager for about 15 minutes and she answered my questions clearly and confidently.

For someone who had fled a war zone and just given birth, she struck me as stoic and composed – but she seemed utterly unaware of the implications of her decisions since leaving London in 2015.

Begum has given birth to a baby boy
Image:
The 19-year-old has given birth to a baby boy

In our interview she described life in IS like this: “It was nice. It was like how they showed it in the videos – come make a family together.”

She also felt that people in Britain would welcome her back. She said: “A lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left and I was hoping that for the sake of me and my child, they could let me come back.”

What struck me, more than anything perhaps, was her honesty.

I have interviewed former IS soldiers and family members on previous assignments and they tend to skate over their personal actions – and disown the organisation as a whole.

Shamima Begum tells Sky News that people should feel 'sympathy' towards her and that she did not encourage others to come to Syria.
Image:
Shamima Begum says people should feel ‘sympathy’ towards her

But Shamima Begum does not. She embraced life in IS. She was happy.

She says she married a wonderful man in IS (27-year old Dutchman called Yago Reidijk, now being held in a Kurdish prison).

For parliamentarians and ministers and the public-at-large, this poses a huge challenge.

What are our obligations to Shamima Begum – a young woman and British citizen – who is not ready to apologise?

But if we do not take her, who will?

The Kurds in northern Syria are absolutely overwhelmed.

One this is certain. The rehabilitation of this 19-year-old will not be easy – something that she freely admits.

She said: “It would be really hard because of everything I’ve been through now.

“I’m still kind of in the mentality of planes over my head and (having) an emergency backpack.

“I think it would be a big shock to go back to the UK and start life again.”

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