Shamima Begum, Who Joined ISIS At 15, Loses UK Citizenship Appeal

Shamima Begum, Who Joined ISIS At 15, Loses UK Citizenship Appeal


Vivien Fakhoury

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

In 2015, Shamima Begum, who was 15 at the time, left the United Kingdom to join the Islamic State (IS), a terror group that claims to represent an extremist version of Islam and aims to establish its own state or caliphate. [1] Begum made the journey to Syria via Türkiye with two school friends, who are both assumed dead, to join another friend that made the same journey months prior. She then married an IS fighter and birthed three children, all of whom died as infants due to malnutrition and illness. She reappeared on authorities’ radar in 2019 when the caliphate collapsed, she was taken and is currently still held in a camp in northern Syria, and pleaded with British authorities to return for the wellbeing of her third son. [2]

Begum is a British-born woman of Bangladeshi heritage. However, in 2019, the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid decided to strip her of her British citizenship on grounds of national security. Begum filed an appeal with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. Her legal team argued the decision was unlawful since the UK Home Office did not sufficiently investigate and consider that Begum was trafficked for sexual exploitation. [3] On Wednesday, 22 February 2023, Judge Robert Jay decided that although there is reasonable evidence that Begum was human trafficked and that there were “state failures” relating to her journey, this does not change the fact that she is a national security threat. [4] To him, these are two separate cases. Sir James Eadie KC, a spokesperson on behalf of the UK Home Office, said “You can still be a risk of setting off a bomb in London or Manchester, even if you have been trafficked at a young age.” He added that she left IS territory when the caliphate collapsed and that “she left only for safety and not because of a genuine disengagement from the group.” [5] An anonymous British intelligence officer, ‘Witness E’ in the case said that at her age and with her high grades she would have very well known the acts of terrorism the IS was committing. [6]

According to the law, the British government cannot strip someone of their citizenship if this could render them stateless. The government took their decision assuming that Begum can claim Bangladeshi citizenship based on her heritage. But Bangladeshi authorities say otherwise, based on their citizenship system and based on the fact that they do not want to support terrorism. This casts doubt on the legality of the government’s actions. [7]

Another controversy in the case is the ‘spy’ who facilitated her moves through Türkiye.  Mohammed Al Rasheed is a Syrian man who wanted to apply for asylum at the Canadian Embassy in Jordan and now claims he was promised Canadian citizenship in return for providing them with intelligence. Among other IS-related information, he provided the Embassy with copies of passports and videos and photos of the people he helped cross the border to Syria. One of the videos he took shows Begum and her friends in Türkiye getting out of a taxi and into an unknown vehicle, following his commands. Days after, Al Rasheed was arrested in Türkiye. [8] In a book that was published last year called The Secret History of the Five Eyes by Richard Kerbaj, a former security correspondent of The Sunday Times, claims that the UK and Canada conspired to cover up the involvement of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in facilitating human trafficking to the IS. [9] The Begum family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, called for an inquiry into this, stating that “we have been cooperating with a Western ally, trading sensitive intelligence with them whilst they have effectively been nabbing British children and trafficking them across the Syrian border for delivery to ISIS, all in the name of intelligence gathering.” [10]

Begum’s lawyer Daniel Furner said they will challenge Judge Jay’s decision with the Court of Appeal. [11] Meanwhile, she is still held in Syria and cannot attend the hearings herself. Despite trying, she has been banned from entry into the UK. [12] Samantha Knights, representing Begum, said she is “effectively an exile for life.” [13] Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said in a statement that “Britain is the only G20 country that strips citizenship in bulk and the last of our allies refusing to repatriate its nationals from north-east Syria.” [14] Amnesty International released a statement saying they are disappointed with the judgement and that “just as other nations have done, the UK should be helping any of its citizens stranded in Syria - including by assisting in their safe return to the UK, whether or not that means facing possible criminal investigation or prosecution.” [15]

You can listen to Shamima Begum share her own story in Series 2 of the BBC podcast called “I am not a Monster.” [16]

Sources and Further Reading:

[1] Also known under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or داعش in Arabic (Da’esh).

[2] Tanno, S., & Gretener, J. (2023, February 23). British woman who joined ISIS as a teen loses UK citizenship appeal. CNN. 

[3] Shamima Begum: How can you lose your citizenship? (2023, February 22). BBC. 

[4] Tobin, S. (2023, February 22). Shamima Begum, British-born woman who joined IS, loses appeal over citizenship removal. Reuters. 

[5] Sandford, D., & Rhoden, A. (2022, November 24). Shamima Begum knew about IS when she joined, UK lawyer says. BBC.; Tobin, S. (2022, November 21). British schoolgirl who joined IS likely trafficking victim, court told. Reuters. 

[6] Tobin, S. (2022, November 21).

[7] Shamima Begum will not be allowed here, Bangladesh says. (2019, February 21). BBC. 

[8] Baker, J. (2022, August 31). Shamima Begum: Spy for Canada smuggled schoolgirl to Syria. BBC.; Mussa, M. (2022, September 1). Canadian spy smuggled me into Syria, says UK girl who joined Daesh/ISIS. Anadolu Agency.; Spy accused of helping teens join ISIS claims he worked for Canadian intelligence. (2015, March 13). CBC. 

[9] Kerbaj, R. (2022). The Secret History of the Five Eyes: The Untold Story of the Shadowy International Spy Network, Through Its Targets, Traitors and Spies. United Kingdom: Blink Publishing; Canada spy smuggled UK's Shamima Begum into Syria: New book. (2022, August 31). Al Jazeera. 

[10] (2022, August 31). Al Jazeera.

[11] Tobin, S. (2023, February 22).

[12] Tanno, S., & Gretener, J. (2023, February 23).

[13] Tobin, S. (2022, November 21).

[14] Ullah, A. (2023, February 22). Shamima Begum loses citizenship appeal despite sex trafficking concerns. Middle East Eye. 

[15] Amnesty International. (2023, February 22). UK: Judgement on Shamima Begum's citizenship is 'disappointing'. 

[16] BBC Radio 5 Live - I'm Not a Monster. (n.d.). BBC. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from