Should Shamima Begum be allowed to return to the UK to argue her case? – The Guardian

A new book says Met police knew she was helped to join IS by a Canadian spy, reinforcing concerns she was victim of trafficking
It is not new – although it is eyecatching – to report that Shamima Begum, then 15, was helped to travel to Syria and join Islamic State by a Canadian agent. Mohammed al-Rashed was picked up by the Turkish authorities in March 2015, and said at the time he was an informant for Canadian intelligence, and had helped Begum travel from Istanbul airport to the Syrian border a few days earlier.
What is new is the suggestion that the Metropolitan police knew about Canada’s behind-the-scenes involvement for some time. A book, The Secret History of the Five Eyes, out this week, reveals that Canadian intelligence officers went shortly after to the British police to admit their connection to Rashed, boosting the argument that the teenager from Bethnal Green and her two friends were in fact trafficked.
The Canadians were in no position to prevent Begum from travelling to Syria – they only found out, the book reports, a few days after she had crossed the border. But they had been willing to run Rashed as an agent in exchange for information on IS, allowing him to carry on helping people travel through Turkey to join the terrorist group, including those who were underage and vulnerable.
The idea that Begum was not a terrorist but rather a victim, groomed by IS recruiters with flawed motivations, lies at the heart of the case her supporters want to make. The latest step in Begum’s battle to have her British citizenship restored comes to court in November, part of a long-running argument that has often focused on technical details about nationality law.
The MI5 assessment of Begum, as revealed in a supreme court hearing nearly two years ago, is simply that by remaining in IS occupied territory after the age of 18, she had aligned with the terror group by the time she was captured in 2019. On top of that, the agency concluded, “public sentiment is overwhelmingly hostile” to her.
In other words, the argument against Begum was not legal but political. It was certainly enough to persuade Sajid Javid to deprive her of her British citizenship in February 2019, after an ill-judged interview in the Times where she appeared to express no remorse, and the Home Office has fought against efforts to overturn her banishment diligently ever since.
Since then, more than three years have passed. IS is a thin shadow of its former self. Begum remains, as she has done throughout, in a detention camp in north-east Syria. A year ago, Begum gave a very different TV interview, saying she would “rather die than go back to IS” and that she was willing to face the courts in Britain if the UK wanted to accuse her of being a member of the Islamist group, an offence that carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Yet the policy of letting her and other Britons languish in indefinite detention in the Kurdish-held part of Syria, is not likely to alter even as a change of prime minister looms. Under the Conservatives, the Home Office will probably carry on fighting Begum in the courts, believing it is politically popular to do so – even though it is not obvious what national security threat the now 23-year-old poses.
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On top of that, it has become clear that concerns about whether Begum and others like her were victims of trafficking have not just been de-emphasised, but covered up. That may not be enough to overcome the charge that she joined and supported IS, but it demonstrates that Begum’s case is complex, and that it may be fairer to allow to her return to the UK and argue her case in court.


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