Shamima Begum: Revoking citizenship 'undermines UK counter-terrorism'

Former MI6 boss says it is a higher national security risk not to bring people back from Syrian camps

(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
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The UK government is “fundamentally misguided” in its approach to ISIS recruit Shamima Begum, the former MI6 director of counter-terrorism has said.

Former co-ordinator of the UN Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team Richard Barrett said that depriving Ms Begum of her British citizenship in 2019 — when she was 19 years old — “undermines” the UK’s role in international counter-terrorism.

A written opinion by Mr Barrett and Paul Jordan — head of responding to violent extremism at the European Institute of Peace — was produced as part of Ms Begum’s appeal against the Home Office’s decision at the request of her lawyers.

In the document provided to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, the two experts said there was likely to be a higher national security risk caused by refusing to bring people back from Syrian camps.

“From a national security perspective, refusing to repatriate individuals who now find themselves in camps in Syria is likely to be significantly more dangerous in the medium to long term than repatriating them and subjecting them to prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration,” they said.

The experts said that the UK’s approach was in “marked contrast” to the approach of other European countries and the US, which was said to be “particularly concerned about and critical of” the UK’s methods.

“The deprivation order in Ms Begum’s case furthermore undermines the UK’s role in international counter-terrorism policy formation and, in its lack of logic, suggests that important decisions can justifiably be made for narrow political reasons, even when they run counter to best practice,” they said.

“The global reputation of the UK as a country with a sophisticated understanding of terrorism and effective measures to counter its spread is put at risk.”

Mr Barrett and Mr Jordan later said: “The UK government’s approach to Ms Begum, and others in her position, and the perception that it is unfair and is linked to her race and religion, risks undermining community relations in this country.

“That, too, has significant national security implications as well as being undesirable in itself.”

ISIS recruit Shamima Begum wants to return to UK to face terrorism charges — video

The experts later said that the way Ms Begum’s risk was assessed appeared to be “seriously flawed”.

“We consider that the basis on which she was assessed to be a threat to national security, including the reliance upon her statements to the media, to be superficial and inadequate,” they continued.

“In particular, the assessment does not appear to have considered how she may have been groomed and radicalised at such a young age.

“We consider that to have been critical to any proper assessment of national security risk.”

Mr Barrett and Mr Jordan concluded: “In our view the approach taken by the UK government to Ms Begum has been fundamentally misguided from a national security perspective.”

In written submissions, Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, said there was “no ‘credible suspicion’ that she was a victim of trafficking or was at real and immediate risk of being trafficked prior to her travel from the UK”.

Sir James said that the then-home secretary Sajid Javid took into account Ms Begum’s age, how she travelled to Syria — including probable online radicalisation — and her activity in Syria when making the decision to remove her British citizenship.

He added that the Security Services “continue to assess that Ms Begum poses a risk to national security”.

Updated: November 24, 2022, 5:13 AM