The 22-year-old is banned from the UK after marrying a jihadi with spy agencies denying her claims she was just a Raqqa housewife and instead was a member of the terror group’s feared ‘morality police’ and even stitched suicide bombers into explosive vests.
But today, wearing a Nike baseball cap and a low-cut vest top instead of a niqab, Begum said she is a victim of grooming by extremists, would now ‘rather die’ than rejoin the extremist group and admitted she was wrong to say the Manchester Arena suicide bomb attack was ‘justified’ because of airstrikes that have killed civilians in Syria.
The east London schoolgirl who has dumped her veil a year ago and now straightens her dyed hair, paints her nails and wears make-up, fled her home in 2015 to join the so-called Islamic State terror group in Syria with two friends both now believed to be dead.
Begum has had her British citizenship revoked by the Home Office on national security grounds and on the basis she is not stateless because of her Bangladeshi parents, has begged to be brought back to the UK to face a terror trial.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain in a live interview: ‘I know it’s very hard for the British people to try and forgive me because they have lived in fear of Isis and lost loved ones because of Isis, but I also have lived in fear of Isis and I also lost loved ones because of Isis, so I can sympathise with them in that way. I know it is very hard for them to forgive me but I say from the bottom of my heart that I am so sorry if I ever offended anyone by coming here, if I ever offended anyone by the things I said.’
But her classmates in London have previously said that Begum wore an ISIS badge on her blazer in an attempt to recruit class members to join the terror group alongside her friends Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana. She previously described with chilling nonchalance how she ‘wasn’t fazed’ by the sight of a severed head. Begum also declared how she had a ‘good time’ with Isis, and justified the terror group’s bombing of Manchester Arena.
There are also claims that intelligence officials briefed Boris Johnson that she had been witnessed handling suicide vests and sewing them on to jihadis, as well as caring for injured terrorists in Raqqa hospitals.
In a direct plea to Boris Johnson, before asking to meet Sajid Javid face to face because he revoked her British citizenship when he was Home Secretary, she said: ‘You are clearly struggling with extremism and terrorism in your country and I want to help with that telling you my own experience what they say and how they persuade people to come to places like Syria and I could very much help you with that because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing in the fight against terrorism and I want to help’.
Shamima Begum, the east London schoolgirl who fled her home in 2015 to join the so-called Islamic State terror group in Syria, has asked the British people for forgiveness
Shamima Begum no longer wears her niqab, now straightens her hair, paints her nails, with associates saying she now enjoys Zumba, listening to Shakira and watching Good Morning Britain, which she appeared on today
Shamima Begum was 15 when she ran away with two other schoolgirls to Syria to marry a Dutch jihadi in 2015
Begum said she came to Syria expecting simply to get married, have children and ‘live a pure, Islamic life’, adding: ‘The reason I came to Syria was not for violent reasons.’
She added: ‘At the time I did not know it (so-called Islamic State) was a death cult, I thought it was an Islamic community I was joining.
‘I was being fed a lot of information on the internet by people.’ She said she thought she was ‘groomed and taken advantage of and manipulated into’ travelling to Syria.
Begum has also never been open about what she did for the group, but it has been claims she worked caring for injured jihadis in the terror group’s former stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria.
She married Dutch jihadi Yago Riedijk and had three children, all of whom died.
Begum, who frequently swept the hair from her face with hands decorated with pink-coloured nail varnish, denied being directly involved in terrorist preparations.
She told Good Morning Britain: ‘I am willing to go to court and face the people who made these claims and refute these claims, because I know I did nothing in IS but be a mother and a wife.
‘These claims are being made to make me look worse because the Government do not have anything on me.
‘There is no evidence because nothing ever happened.’
She added: ‘I would rather die than go back to IS.’
Begum said she regretted her actions and apologised for the comments she previously made about the Manchester Arena bombing.
She said: ‘I do not believe that one evil justifies another evil. I don’t think that women and children should be killed for other people’s motives and for other people’s agendas.’
Begum said she did not know that women and children were hurt in Manchester.
‘I did not know about the Manchester bombing when I was asked. I did not know that people were killed, I did not know that women and children were hurt because of it.’
Begum said it was ‘not justifiable to kill innocent people in the name of religion’.
She also apologised to anyone who has been affected by Isis and the terror group’s actions.
She said: ‘I’m in a different camp, obviously. I have friends now. I have a security shield now around me with my friends and I feel more confident in myself.
‘I obviously don’t have my son anymore so I only have to think about my safety so if I do get attacked for taking my hijab off, it’s on me.
‘While I’m in this camp, I’m trying to change myself. I’m trying to better myself, because I can.’
In an apology to the public, she said: ‘Of course I am completely sorry for anyone that has been affected by Isis.
‘In no way do I agree with what they did, I don’t, I’m not trying to justify what they did, it’s not justifiable to kill innocent people in the name of religion.’
Begum was 15 when she ran away with two other schoolgirls – Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 – (all pictured at Gatwick airport) to Syria to marry a Dutch jihadi in 2015
Begum now looks very different from her previous image as a jihadi bride in a hijab and head scarf. Pictured holding her baby in the Al Hawl camp, where the child died
Asked for a message to Boris Johnson, Begum said that she could help the Prime Minister in ‘your fight against terrorism because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing’.
She told Good Morning Britain: ‘I want to say that you are clearly struggling with extremism and terrorism in your country. And I want to help with that with giving my own experience from with these extremists and what they say and how they persuade people to do what they do and to come to places like Syria.
‘I think I could very much help you in your fight against terrorism, because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.’
Begum added that while she believes the only crime she committed was being ‘dumb enough’ to come to Isis, she still deserves a fair trial.
She said: ‘Honestly, the only crime I think I committed was being dumb enough to come to Isis, and even that can be refuted because I was 15 when I came, and you can’t, you know, judge a 15-year-old for making a mistake which he or she very quickly regretted making.
‘If you really think I did do this, why don’t you bring me back and put me on trial, and hear my side of the story.
‘If you if you honestly believe that, don’t you think I just have to go to jail for it.
‘The fact that you think I should rather rot here, instead of face trial… the democracy that you live in, says that everyone deserves a fair trial.’
Begum said she the decision to stop wearing the hijab was one she took for herself and denied that the move was a publicity stunt.
She said: ‘I have not been wearing hijab for maybe more than a year now. I took it off for myself, because I felt very constricted in the hijab, I felt like I was not myself.
‘And I feel like it makes me happy, to not wear the hijab. I’m not doing for anyone but myself.
‘I’ve had many opportunities to let people take pictures of me without my hijab on, but I did not.’
Begum said ‘no-one can hate me more than I hate myself for what I’ve done’.
She told Good Morning Britain said: ‘I know there are some people no matter what I say or what I do, they will not believe that I have changed, believe that I want to help.
‘But for those who have even a drop of mercy and compassion and empathy in their hearts, I tell you from the bottom of my heart that I regret every, every decision I’ve made since I stepped into Syria and I will live with it for the rest of my life.
‘You may forget about it one day but I will take it to my grave, this feeling of regret and this feeling of disgust at myself.
‘No one can hate me more than I hate myself for what I’ve done and all I can say is I’m sorry and just give me a second chance.’
When asked what she would tell Sajid Javid, who was Home Secretary when Begum’s British citizenship was revoked, Begum said: ‘I understand why he took my citizenship away, that it’s his job to think about the interest of the UK before anything else.
‘What he saw on the media was not the true me. If he were to meet me himself, I’m pretty sure he would change his mind about my citizenship.’
Begum said she was groomed and taken advantage of, believing she would be entering an ‘Islamic paradise’.
She said: ‘People that I was speaking to online they just, they created this image for me over paradise, an Islamic paradise.
‘They pressured me very hard into coming. They made me feel bad for wanting to stay in the UK, for wanting to stay with my family who weren’t even practising at the time. And they took advantage of me because they knew that I was young.’
Her rejection of Islamic clothing is evidence, for some, at least, that she has renounced her past. Others believe her transformation is part of a ploy to win sympathy while her lawyers challenge the decision to strip her of her British citizenship
Speaking to her closest associates in March, the Mail revealed how she spends her days watching Good Morning Britain on ITV in her tent, playing charades or dancing to the music of Shakira downloaded from the internet with her fellow Western campmates.
She is also fond of Zumba classes and watching films: the Spider-Man and Men In Black franchises are particular favourites.
Ms Begum insists she has changed. She isn’t ‘that’ person any more: ‘I would say to people in the UK, give me a second chance because I was still young when I left,’ she pleaded in an emotive interview for a new documentary in the spring.
Her rejection of Islamic clothing is evidence, for some, at least, that she has renounced her past. Others believe her transformation is part of a ploy to win sympathy while her lawyers challenge the decision to strip her of her British citizenship.
In February, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled on national security grounds that she cannot return to Britain to pursue an appeal against the decision.
Either way, her striking new image has turned the global spotlight on to Shamima Begum and her life at al-Roj. She is among a 50-strong British contingent of women and children at the encampment, which houses around 800 families in total.
The authorities at al-Roj — the Kurdish-led and Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — have banned black clothing, the colour of Isis, and black face veils.
A number of woman, like Ms Begum, have voluntarily given up Islamic dress entirely. Ms Begum mixes with a small circle of European and American friends.
In the documentary, The Return: Life After Isis, which has followed her and the other women over the past two years, Ms Begum is filmed in her tent; in the background is a couch with cushions, one of which has ‘love’ stitched into it and another is in the shape of a heart
U.S.-born Hoda Muthana, 26, once a high-profile Isis agitator, is a member of her close-knit social group, so too is Canadian Kimberly Polman, a mother of three adult children in her late 40s; all three were Isis brides.
Miss Begum was married off to a Dutch jihadi with whom she had three children in quick succession, all of whom died of disease or malnutrition before she arrived at al-Roj.
Her husband is thought to be held in a Kurdish-run prison in Syria, and the pair haven’t been in contact since 2019.
Syrian journalist Khabat Abbas , who has visited Ms Begum many times, and has been inside her tent, which has a satellite TV and basic cooking facilities, said: ‘She is very happy here.’ She adds that Ms Begum seems undimmed by the latest setback in her case that has left her stranded, for the foreseeable future, at any rate, in legal limbo.
In the documentary, The Return: Life After Isis, which has followed her and the other women over the past two years, Ms Begum is filmed in her tent; in the background is a couch with cushions, one of which has ‘love’ stitched into it and another is in the shape of a heart.
The women often hold parties in their living quarters.
Music was haram — prohibited under the strict interpretation of the Koran.
‘They are always socialising together,’ Khabat says. ‘They have even invited me to spend the night with them.’
One typical party is featured in the documentary, which shows a tent lit up with fairy lights and the women eating pastries.
In another scene, they engage in a ‘group hug’ and a voice can be heard saying: ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you guys.’
The camp has numerous shops — run by ordinary refugees who are allowed to enter and leave at will — selling second-hand European clothes, make-up and jewellery, as well as vegetables, groceries, chocolate, crisps and other basic provisions.
The documentary makers show Ms Begum’s group queuing up at a money exchange ‘hole in the wall’ window for hawala — an ancient system based on trust between brokers that leaves no paper trail.
This is a method often used by those in such camps to receive funds from family based in other countries.
Shamima is among a 50-strong British contingent of women and children at the al-Roj detention centre in north-east Syria, which houses around 800 families in total
Families can be prosecuted for sending money to relatives under anti-terror legislation.
In The Return: Life After Isis, she is seen writing to her younger self and then reading the letter out aloud.
‘I know you think this is the only option you have to hold on to your religion and escape the problems in your life, but you have your entire life ahead of you to complete your religion and mend broken relationships between everyone in the family,’ she says, addressing the camera.
‘Think about Mum and how much it would hurt her to know that her little baby left her and didn’t give her a hug and a kiss, knowing that she’ll probably never see her again.
‘Think about the education you’re about to throw away. You worked so hard to get where you are now. Don’t just walk away from it all for something I know you’re not even certain about.’
Sky will be screening the 90-minute film on Sky Documentaries and Now TV in the summer.
Shamima is heard speaking for the first time about what drove her to desert her country, her home, and her family, and join Isis with two school friends from East London, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, both now presumed dead.
‘I felt like I was an outsider in my community,’ she says.
‘So I just wanted to be part of something. My friend started practising [Islam] and they helped me come into the religion as well… and it then turned into wanting to come to Syria, wanting to help the Syrians.’
She was subsequently groomed by online radicals.
Two months later — just two months is all it took — she and her friends were on a plane from Gatwick bound for the Middle East.
In interviews after she was discovered in 2019 at al-Hol — the camp where she was based previously, also in north-east Syria — she continued to espouse the barbaric ideology of Isis.
A clip of one of those inflammatory interviews, where she failed to condemn the Manchester Arena atrocity after being asked about the child victims by a Manchester journalist, is played to Ms Begum during the documentary.
It is a chilling reminder of why she remains such a divisive and controversial figure. Ms Begum responds to being shown the footage by saying she ‘had no choice but to say certain things’ to reporters because ‘she lived in fear’ that women at al-Hol would kill her if she didn’t.