Tareena Shakil: I had lost my way when I joined ISIS

Shamima Begum, another ISIS recruit, remains in Syria after losing a Supreme Court battle to restore her UK citizenship

The first woman found guilty in the UK of joining ISIS has said she “just lost her way in life” and regretted her decision to align with the terrorist group.

Tareena Shakil was jailed for six years for joining ISIS in Syria and is now living in the UK.

She travelled to Syria in 2014 with her young son and spent several months as a member of the extremists.

After becoming disillusioned and escaping ISIS-held territory, she flew back to Britain and was arrested at Heathrow Airport, west London, in 2015.

She was jailed for being a member of ISIS and encouraging acts of terrorism on social media.

In her first interview since being released, Shakil, who is from the English city of Birmingham, expressed scepticism about allowing other British ISIS recruits to return.

In a new documentary for ITV called Tareena: Return From ISIS, the 32-year-old said her case was different from that of many other recruits, such as Shamima Begum, because she chose to leave when ISIS still controlled a large territory.

"I can't sit here and say: 'No, don't bring them back', because that makes me a hypocrite, because I've been in a very similar situation,” Shakil said.

She said her story was different from others who joined ISIS “because I escaped".

"I chose to leave when ISIS were at their peak, as opposed to waiting for the fall of ISIS and then saying: 'I want to come home.'"

"Having said that, there may be reasons that these people didn't escape from there. I know that.

“It takes strength, it takes courage, like it’s life and death, not everybody has it in them to go for that."

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 22, 2015, Renu Begum, eldest sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London. The father of British teenager Shamima Begum, who went to Syria and married an Islamic State militant, insisted in an interview with AFP on February 25, 2019 that Britain must take her back before deciding any punishment. / AFP / POOL / POOL / LAURA LEAN

This year, Begum, 22, lost her battle in the UK's Supreme Court to restore her British citizenship.

High Court judges previously said it was unlawful for the government to revoke her citizenship because she had not been informed about the move.

Begum, who attended school in East London, travelled to Syria with her two friends in 2015 to join ISIS.

In 2019, Sajid Javid, the UK's home secretary at the time, revoked Begum’s citizenship and said she would not be allowed to return.

Begum told The Times that year that she did not regret her decision to join ISIS. She has since changed her position and now dresses in western clothing.

She is among thousands of Europeans living in camps in north-east Syria run by Syrian-Kurdish groups.

Meanwhile, Shakil said she now wished she had gone to Turkey on holiday, instead of using the country as a route to Syria.

“If I could go back I would have come back. I would have gone to Turkey on holiday and I would have come back,” she said.

“That’s what should have happened, gone on holiday for a week and come back.”

The documentary, filmed over three years, says Shakil was groomed by an ISIS recruiter.

At one point, Shakil is shown with an image in which she is holding an AK-47.

“That’s someone who’s just lost her way in life, found a very wrong path,” she said.

She said she was aware of the violence being committed by ISIS. “I can’t lie and say that I didn’t because it was everywhere," she said.

“You know, being aware of horrific things that were happening in that place and still deciding to run away, not just on your own, with your child, I understand that is hard for people to understand."

She did not give too much thought to the sickening acts being committed by ISIS members around her, she said.

“That’s what it was, I just didn’t,” she said.

“It’s not something that I’m happy about now looking back, but at the time the only thing I can say is that, you know, I was far from the best version of myself.”

Tareena: Return From ISIS is now available to watch on ITV Hub.

Updated: November 15th 2021, 12:06 PM