Shamima Begum case: 'Brainwashed' people can still be security threat, says UK government

Barrister for Home Office tells court vulnerable, trafficked people could still set off a bomb in London or Manchester

2DCR7K6 Undated file photo of Shamima Begum whose potential return to the UK to challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship will be considered by the Supreme Court.
Powered by automated translation

People trafficked to Syria and “brainwashed” can still be threats to national security, the Home Office has said in Shamima Begum’s appeal against the stripping of her British citizenship.

Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, told a hearing: “You could well have been radicalised and manipulated at an age when you are vulnerable … but nevertheless, however unfortunate it might be, you are now a risk.

“You can still be a risk of setting off a bomb in London or in Manchester … even if you have been trafficked at a young age.”

Ms Begum was 15 when she travelled from Bethnal Green, east London, through Turkey and into territory controlled by ISIS.

The court previously heard from her mother, Asma Begum, who said her “world fell apart” when Ms Begum left home in 2015.

Ms Begum's British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Now 23, Ms Begum is challenging the Home Office at the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal over the decision to remove her British citizenship.

SIAC has heard that, according to the security services, people who travelled to Syria to align with ISIS “were likely to have been radicalised, to have contributed to the continuance of Isil [ISIS] as an entity and may have received military training, fought with Isil or taken part in terrorist attacks”.

“They were exposed to routine acts of extreme violence, which would be likely to have had the effect of desensitising individuals and encouraging them to view violent terrorist activity as an ‘acceptable and legitimate course of action’,” the court was told in written submissions.

On Thursday, Sir James said Ms Begum was exposed to four years in ISIS-controlled territory before the removal of her British citizenship in 2019.

He later referenced statements Ms Begum made to the media, including in an interview where she said she was not “fazed” about seeing a head in a bin.

“If you have been exposed for prolonged periods, there is an almighty problem,” he said.

The barrister also said the security services have identified several potential risks from people who have returned to the UK from ISIS-controlled territory, including being involved in the planning or execution of terror attacks.

“Simply providing support, couriering, providing funds and logistical support … They do not have to be bombers themselves,” Sir James added.

Ms Begum’s lawyers said she was “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male”.

But Sir James said on Thursday the threat posed to national security is the most important factor.

“You can be trafficked in the most ghastly, unacceptable way, exposed in the most unacceptable way, desensitised in the most unacceptable way and yet, unfortunately, … still be a security threat.”

He said: “If they do pose such a danger, how they came to pose that danger is not important. What matters is that they do in fact pose such a danger.”

He added: “No one disputes that it is entirely possible for a person to have been trafficked or manipulated or brainwashed or similar, and yet be the most serious danger to the public.

“A threat to national security means someone who poses a threat to the public.”

Sir James previously said then-home secretary Sajid Javid was aware of Ms Begum’s “age and circumstances of her travel to Syria” when he made the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship.

The barrister said Ms Begum travelled to Syria “with her eyes open” about the brutality of ISIS.

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued she was “persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective ISIS propaganda machine”.

Samantha Knights KC continued in written submissions: “What evidence is available shows that rather than viewing the appellant as a victim, a child that was manipulated and exploited, the Home Secretary proceeded on the basis that she acted ‘voluntarily’ in travelling to Syria and aligning with ISIS.”

The hearing in London, before Mr Justice Jay, is due to finish on Friday, with a decision expected in writing at a later date.

Updated: November 24, 2022, 5:46 PM