In February 2015, three teenage schoolgirls left their homes in Bethnal Green, east London, and travelled to Syria to join the ISIS caliphate.
Kadiza Sultana, 16, Amira Abase, 15 and Shamima Begum, 15, had been groomed by terrorist propaganda online and dreamed of becoming jihadi brides.
After the girls left the UK, they were difficult to trace, meaning their fates were unknown for a long time.
But in 2019, when Shamima Begum was found in a refugee camp, the families of all three girls finally got some answers.
It’s believed Kadiza Sultana was killed in a Russian air strike on the city of Raqqa in August 2016.
The whereabouts of Amira Abase are unknown, but Ms Begum said in 2019 that she had remained in the last remaining ISIS stronghold of Baghuz.
When Ms Begum was first interviewed four years after her disappearance, she spoke of her desire to return to the UK, claiming she’d turned her back on the ISIS regime and was no threat to the country.
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Nine months pregnant at the time, she claimed she’d lost several babies and wanted to give her new arrival the best chance of survival in the UK.
Her claims divided the nation, with some arguing she should never be allowed to return while others said she has a right to come back to her country of citizenship.
The following month, then home secretary Sajid Javid revoked Begum’s British citizenship. Earlier this year, the now 22-year-old lost an appeal against the decision after the Supreme Court ruled in the Home Office’s favour.
Now a new documentary interviews a former Met Police chief superintendent who claims Begum is a problem for the UK to deal with and “take responsibility” for.
Dal Babu, who has become a spokesperson for the Begum family, claims the UK is leaving its problems “for the rest of the world to deal with” by revoking Begum’s citizenship.
Babu claims that, before she joined ISIS, Begum was a typical 15-year-old girl.
He says: ” I’ve seen pictures of her having a birthday party in a pizza place; she didn’t wear a hijab of niqab, the traditional Islamic dress.
“She was just wearing t-shirts, had her hair open, was having a birthday party. In a lot of ways, quite a normal teenager.”
But her seemingly normal teenage life masked a dark and growing obsession with ISIS propaganda, specifically designed to attract young members.
Forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, who appears in the documentary, says: “Terrorist groups make a specific effort to target teenagers.
“They want teenagers to join them because they’re young, they’re fit and they’re strong. But particularly they’re more vulnerable to the messages that these groups put out there.”
Begum, Sultana and Abase travelled to Syria just months after another friend of theirs, Sharmeena Begum, suddenly left school and made the trip to join the Caliphate.
Journalist Duncan Gardham says: “S he was older than the other girls and we believe that she was in communication with the girls after she went, and she was encouraging them to go and giving them a very rose-tinted view of what was happening out in Syria.”
After becoming exposed to ISIS propaganda and influenced by her friend, Dal Babu says Begum was “totally hooked, totally besotted and groomed by these ISIS fighters” adding that her family was “totally clueless.”
In early 2015, after the alarm was raised that Sharmeena had been sending messages to the girls about Syria, cops wrote to the families of the three teenagers asking to interview them.
But they made a crucial mistake – by giving the letters to the girls themselves. Two weeks later, they left for Syria.
Babu says this was an enormous error of judgment that could have changed everything.
He says: “The police were aware that these girls were beingradicalised, and they crucially did not tell the parents. I think it’s unforgivable.”
When Begum reappeared in 2019, she described the horrors she’d witnessed while living in Syria as an ISIS bride – including seeing decapitated heads of the terror group’s victims. All the while, she spoke flatly and without emotion, which Babu admits was something she’d live to regret.
He says: “I think she’s struggled ever since giving that interview because it was an absolute disaster. She said some very foolish things. But you have to remember, she had ISIS fighters in that room.
“If she said the wrong thing, she’d have her throat cut.So, she was trying to please the ISIS audience that were there, and she was trying to send a message back home, and she failedmiserably.”
The full extent of Begum’s involvement with ISIS is unknown, with some reports she was more active in the group’s sadistic activities than she was letting on.
Some newspapers reported Begum sewed explosives into the vests of ISIS suicide bombers.
According to Babu, there’s no way of knowing if any of this is true.
“She’s denied all of this, but the reality is that you can say absolutely anything about Shamima Begum and nobody is going to challenge you,” he says.
“She’s the most hated woman in Britain. You don’t need any evidence or any facts to say anything about her.”
The ISIS bride has also been slammed for her comments about the Manchester Arena bombing which killed 23 people including several children.
When asked about the attack, Begum said it was “justified” considering airstrikes which killed civilians in Syria.
Babu claims her response severely damaged her chance to come home.
He says: ” I think she is incredibly naïve. There can be no justification for what happened in Manchester. That was appalling. And to try and justify that was plain wrong.”
But he adds that having ISIS fighters present during the interview could, again, have influenced her answer.
“She was in a no-win situation. We seem to have forgotten all of that,” he says.
“You imagine a situation now where in this country the authorities would be up in arms if we interviewed somebody like that under those circumstances. But Shamima Begum was fair game.”
Begum’s son Jarah, her third child, was born in early 2019 in the squalid conditions of the al-Hawl refugee camp. He died shortly after birth.
Technically a British citizen, Babu believes little Jarah was failed by the UK, who showed a “lack of compassion” towards the infant.
He says: ” You’re leaving a baby in three or four degrees at night in those tents; there was poor nutrition, it was entirely predictable and foreseeable what was likely to happen to a child in those circumstances.”
Despite losing her appeal in February of this year, Begum is still fighting against the decision to strip her of British citizenship and wants to return to the UK.
It is believed she is married to Dutch ISIS fighter Yago Riedijk, who she wed just days after first entering ISIS territory.
Babu argues Britain should take responsibility for Begum and not treat her as another state’s problem.
He says: “Shamima is a British citizen. She was born here, she’s a Londoner, her roots are here in this country.
“Even though she’s brown we shouldn’t distinguish that, we shouldn’t have a second-class system because she’s brown. She is a British citizen, and we need to take responsibility.
“We can’t just leave our problems for the rest of the world to deal with.”
Shamima Begum: A Faking It Special is available to stream on discovery+ now