Shamima Begum, who left Britain as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State in Syria, remains a serious threat to national security and should be deprived of her UK citizenship, the supreme court has been told.
Extracts of MI5 assessments of the dangers posed by the return of those who joined Isis were read out at the start of a two-day hearing challenging the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship and refuse her leave to enter the UK.
Sir James Eadie QC, for the Home Office, told the court the assessments gauged that Begum presented a serious threat “justifying the removal of her British citizenship and … the placing of serious impediments in the way of her return to the UK.”
Eadie said: “She is assessed to pose a real and current threat to national security. She is aligned with [Isis]. During the four years she has spent in Islamic State territory she had undergone radicalisation and “desensitization to violence”.
Excerpts of MI5 assessments of those who had lived under the so-called caliphate said they were exposed to “desensitising acts of brutality” as well as instruction in using firearms and other weapons.
Women and children non-combatants “regularly carried weapons and received some level of military training”, the reports said. The return of anyone who had spent so much time being indoctrinated in Syria represented an increased risk that they would “inspire and encourage” others to carry out attacks in the UK, the court heard.
In a 2019 interview with the Times, the court was told, Begum said she had seen severed heads dumped in rubbish bins and wondered “what had these men done to Muslim women”.
Eadie said that making it difficult to return was part of the intention to reduce the public’s exposure to a “national security threat”. Begum, he said, remained with Isis “until the very end, she didn’t regret going and she wanted the caliphate to be victorious”.
Begum is challenging both the decision to deprive her of citizenship and the decision to refuse her leave to enter the UK. Supporters point to the fact she was a child when she was targeted and groomed by jihadist groups; they say the UK government failed to protect her and prevent her leaving the country. Some security details relating to Begum have been redacted from released court documents.
In February, a unanimous judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) found against Begum on three grounds, including that she had not been improperly deprived of her citizenship. The ruling accepted that conditions in al-Roj camp, where she is being held in Syria, amounted to, at least, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, but deemed that her human rights were not protected under UK law.
The tribunal concluded the decision to strip Begum of her citizenship did not make her stateless because she was entitled to, or in effect held, Bangladeshi citizenship. Begum was born in the UK and grew up in east London. There was no evidence she had ever visited Bangladesh or applied for citizenship there.
In June, the court of appeal partially overturned the decision and ordered that she should be allowed to return to the UK to contest the deprivation of citizenship. The Home Office, however, counter-appealed to the supreme court.
In February 2015, aged 15, Begum left her home with two other teenagers and travelled to Syria to join Isis. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019. The then home secretary, Sajid Javid, stripped her of her British citizenship later that month.
Begum, now 21, claims she married the Dutch Isis fighter Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in Isis territory. Her schoolfriends also reportedly married foreign fighters in the terrorist group. The couple had three children, two of whom died of disease or malnutrition during Isis’s last stand at Baghuz. The third died in al-Hawl camp.
Several civil rights organisations and the UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism have intervened in the case.
Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer with the civil rights group Liberty, said: “The right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.
“If a government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it would set an extremely dangerous precedent. Banishing government scapegoats isn’t justice, it’s a cynical distraction from a failed counter-terror strategy.”