Runaway schoolgirl Shamima Begum could be a “challenge” to de-radicalise if she returns to Britain, a counter-extremism expert said as her family pleaded for Government assistance.
The heavily pregnant teenager has said she wishes to bring up her baby in the UK, and her family have begged for her to be shown mercy and to be allowed to return to east London.
Chief executive of counter-extremism organisation Qulliam, Haras Rafiq, said he “absolutely” understood that the public would be concerned about the prospect of the 19-year-old’s return, but that the “intellectual and right thing to do” was for her to go before the courts.
She told The Times newspaper she would “do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child” after being tracked down at a refugee camp in northern Syria.
Questions have been raised over whether Britain would be able to prevent Ms Begum’s eventual return to the UK.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned he “will not hesitate” to prevent the return of Britons who travelled to join Islamic State (IS), but Justice Seretary David Gauke told Sky News “we can’t make people stateless”.
Former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile told the BBC that if Ms Begum has not gained a second citizenship of another country, she will have to be allowed back to her homeland because under international law it is not possible for a person to be made “stateless”.
Mr Rafiq said he thought it likely the pregnant teenager’s family will find the money to fund her journey back and that she would be allowed entry and then arrested.
He said it was possible that she could be de-radicalised but that, based on The Times interview, the process could be difficult.
Mr Rafiq, formerly a member of a Government task force looking at countering extremism after the 2005 terrorist bombings in London, told the Press Association: “Nobody can tell whether at this stage, without meeting her, spending time with her, whether she could be de-radicalised or not.
“What we can say is right now from that interview she doesn’t show any remorse or regret and isn’t fazed by decapitated heads and bombs all around her, because she thought that was a normal life. Therein lies the problem.”
He added: “Based on the interview that I heard, she, at this moment in time, is not somebody who thinks she needs to be de-radicalised therefore it’s going to be a challenge for whoever does it.”
Ms Begum, who told the Times she did not regret travelling to IS-controlled Syria, said she understood she could face a police investigation if she manages to return.
Mr Rafiq said she would not be obliged to participate in the voluntary deradicalisation programmes to be released from jail and reunited with her child if she were to be imprisoned for terror offences.
The teenager fears her unborn baby will be taken away from her if she returns and her family, who believe she was groomed, pleaded for the teenager to be allowed back to the UK “as a matter of urgency”.
She asked The Times: “What do you think will happen to my child?
“Because I don’t want it to be taken away from me, or at least if it is, to be given to my family.”
She also said she had been taken to hospital after having contractions following her arrival at the refugee camp, and could give birth “any day”.
Mr Rafiq said Ms Begum’s interview suggested she had made an “almost business decision” on wanting to come back based on IS losing territory, the death of two of her children and her late stage of pregnancy.
He added: “Sometimes it’s these things that can actually be a turning point. There’s no guarantee absolutely that that’s what’s going to happen, but it is possible that she could be de-radicalised.”
In a statement issued by their lawyer, her family called for the Government to help her return, and said her unborn child had “every right as a total innocent to have the chance to grow up in the peace and security of this home”.
They said: “The welfare of Shamima’s unborn baby is of paramount concern to our family, and we will do everything within our power to protect that baby who is entirely blameless in these events.”
Any hopes of a rescue mission by British officials were swiftly quashed on Thursday as the Government ruled out an effort inside Syria to assist Ms Begum.
While refusing to comment on individual cases, Mr Wallace told the BBC: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.
Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls, along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, from Bethnal Green Academy who left the UK in February 2015.
Another girl, Sharmeena Begum, also from Bethnal Green but not related to Shamima, had travelled to Syria two months earlier.
Ms Sultana was reported to have been killed in an air strike in 2016.
Shamima Begum said she had recently heard second-hand that the other two girls may still be alive.