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Shamima Begum’s life in camp: ISIS bride faces future in Syrian detention centre where she can shop for fake Nike clothes, get her hair done by other detainees and has make-up smuggled in by guards


Shamima Begum‘s latest legal loss means she is likely to spend the foreseeable future in the Syrian refugee camp she has called home for several years.

Ms Begum, 24, remains condemned to live in the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, where conditions have been described by the Red Cross as ‘extremely volatile’, after losing an appeal against the decision to revoke her British citizenship.

The Londoner was a Primark-loving 15-year-old when she travelled to Istanbul in Turkey from Gatwick Airport to join ISIS with her close friends at Bethnal Green Academy – Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, in 2015.

She now faces an uncertain future in the al-Roj camp, where she was moved after being discovered in another camp in 2019. Her refusal to disavow ISIS after being found led to the Home Office revoking her citizenship for national security reasons.

A Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SAIC) ruling upheld the decision to strip her of her citizenship as lawful, while a Court of Appeal judgement was issued today that has doubled down on the SAIC’s ruling.

Shamima Begum is living in the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria, where she has been for several years - and will likely remain there after her latest appeal for UK citizenship failed

Shamima Begum is living in the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria, where she has been for several years – and will likely remain there after her latest appeal for UK citizenship failed

The camp is one of several refugee camps in Syria, and was set up for those displaced by ISIS. It now holds thousands of suspected ISIS fanatics

The camp is one of several refugee camps in Syria, and was set up for those displaced by ISIS. It now holds thousands of suspected ISIS fanatics

Living conditions in the camp are reported to be poor, with people living in tents and only simple medical facilities available

Living conditions in the camp are reported to be poor, with people living in tents and only simple medical facilities available 

Begum was moved to al-Roj from the al-Hol camp where she was discovered in February 2019 following reported threats to her life (file photo of a woman walking through the camp)

Begum was moved to al-Roj from the al-Hol camp where she was discovered in February 2019 following reported threats to her life (file photo of a woman walking through the camp) 

Ms Begum is living in the Al-Roj refugee camp, having been found at the Al-Hol camp to the south in 2019

Ms Begum is living in the Al-Roj refugee camp, having been found at the Al-Hol camp to the south in 2019

Shamima Begum appearing in a 2021 interview from al-Roj, where she begged for forgiveness and insisted she was a victim - not a terrorist or a criminal

Shamima Begum appearing in a 2021 interview from al-Roj, where she begged for forgiveness and insisted she was a victim – not a terrorist or a criminal

The former East London schoolgirl wore a black niqab and headscarves in her earlier media appearances

The former East London schoolgirl wore a black niqab and headscarves in her earlier media appearances

She has since undergone a startling transformation, taking on a more Western appearance, as she continues her fight to be allowed back into Britain

She has since undergone a startling transformation, taking on a more Western appearance, as she continues her fight to be allowed back into Britain 

Ms Begum, then aged 15, was filmed on CCTV walking through a security gate at Gatwick

Ms Begum, then aged 15, was filmed on CCTV walking through a security gate at Gatwick 

Begum was just 15 years old when she ran away to Syria to join ISIS with two friends from school

Just ten days after arriving she was married to a Dutchman named Yago Riedijk and the couple had three children

The former jihadi bride has been battling to come back to Britain since 2019 after she was discovered in a Syrian refugee camp

Ms Begum’s lawyers look set to seek permission to take the case to the Supreme Court, but for the time being any hopes of her returning to the UK seem as distant as ever. 

She is likely to continue languishing in the al-Roj camp where she has been for a number of years, as a result – after being moved from the al-Hol cap to the south following reported threats to her life.

Ms Begum has previously compared life at the camp to being ‘worse than prison’ because: ‘At least with prison sentences you know that there will be an end but here you don’t know if there’s going to be an end.’

When she was first discovered at the al-Hol camp in 2019, the ISIS bride was pictured in a black hijab – a headscarf that leaves the face uncovered – but since relocating, she has adopted a more Westernised image.

She has been photographed walking around al-Roj in Primark clothes and Nike trainers, and wearing her hair down – having reportedly had it cut by a fellow jihadi bride in the camp.

She has also taken to wearing make-up that was reportedly smuggled in by some of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) soldiers guarding the gates of the facility, which is home to ISIS converts and their families

Filmmaker Andrew Drury, who knew her for 18 months, said she was also able to get her hands on clothes and make-up from broadcasters courting her for interviews – as well as a camp shop selling fake designer goods sourced from local markets.

‘There’s a shopping area in the camp with six or seven shops selling things like clothes, food and toys,’ he told MailOnline last year.

”The clothes shop is opened up to the extremist and non-extremist girls at different times.

‘They get fake Nikes and other western brands that probably come from local markets.’

Mr Drury said inmates funded their shopping with money sent by their families or earned from cash-in-hand tasks around the camp.

‘Like teenagers they love hanging around the shop and chatting even though they’re not allowed to,’ he said.

‘I didn’t spend too long in the shop myself because I was trying to get her out of there so she could do interviews.’

He said Begum’s other clothes were mainly given to her by broadcasters wanting to interview her.

‘Every time you want to do an interview you ask her what she wants,’ he said.

‘Other clothes have probably been donated by their friends or smuggled in by the guards.’

Begum would also get fashion advice from other Western extremist converts to ISIS, and they would give her haircuts, he added.

International observers say people living at the al-Roj camp are effectively detained by Syrian forces - unable to leave without a guarantee of repatriation to their home countries

International observers say people living at the al-Roj camp are effectively detained by Syrian forces – unable to leave without a guarantee of repatriation to their home countries

Women stand around at the Al-Roj prison camp as they wait for clothes to dry outside

Women stand around at the Al-Roj prison camp as they wait for clothes to dry outside 

Around 2,500 people were estimated to live in the camp in 2021, according to UN children’s agency UNICEF – and of those, half were children.

Al-Roj was first established to welcome families fleeing Iraq, before accepting Syrians as ISIS engaged in battles with domestic armed forces as it sought to establish a new ‘caliphate’ governed under Islamic rule across the Middle East.

It is guarded by the SDF and living standards are basic – with most people living in tents. 

International observers say people living there are effectively detained, with permission only given to leave if arrangements are secured to allow them to return to their original homes.

In a 2021 report, Save the Children claimed only the most basic medical services were available on site – with emergency treatment only possible by leaving the camp to travel to local hospitals. 

It said that almost half of the children whose parents and guardians it interviewed at the camp were ‘always, or usually, upset’.

Meanwhile, Dr Marianne Wade, a reader in criminal justice at Birmingham Law School, said Ms Begum’s legal team would seek an appeal. 

She told MailOnline: ‘Her team will it seems fight on. Despite her public notoriety, they likely also see value in continuing to force the public to ask themselves whether it is right that a – as they see her – vulnerable, groomed and exploited 15 year old should be judged as she has been and have to suffer such harsh, life-long consequences. 

‘This is perhaps as much a political as legal argument and at its heart a battle between the Government and judiciary.

‘For Shamima Begum, of course, it is considerably more urgent than this evergreen, theoretical debate.’

She was originally able to cross the Syrian border with the help of a Canadian spy named Mohammed Al Rasheed, according to reports.

In a BBC podcast series, she said she was told to ‘pack nice clothes so you can dress nicely for your husband’.

Just ten days after arriving in the city of Raqqa, Ms Begum, who is of Bangladeshi heritage, was married to a Dutchman named Yago Riedijk, who had converted to Islam.

They had three children together, who all later died from malnourishment or disease. They were a one-year-old girl, a three-month-old boy and newborn son.

One of the key questions in Ms Begum’s story is how much she knew about ISIS atrocities before deciding to join.

In a 2019 interview, the BBC ‘s Middle East correspondent, Quentin Sommerville, asked if the terror group’s ‘beheading videos’ were one of the things that attracted her.

She replied: ‘Not just the beheading videos, the videos that show families and stuff in the park. The good life that they can provide for you. Not just the fighting videos, but yeah the fighting videos as well I guess.’

Begum was 15 when she ran away with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 (they were all pictured at Gatwick airport in 2015)

Begum was 15 when she ran away with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 (they were all pictured at Gatwick airport in 2015) 

Appearing later on BBC podcast The Shamima Begum Story, she claimed she had not been aware of ISIS atrocities and ‘fell in love’ with the idea of the terror group as a ‘utopia’.

She said she was told to ‘pack nice clothes so you can dress nicely for your husband’. 

The podcast described how Ms Begum was transferred from Turkey to ISIS-controlled Syria by a smuggler called Mohammed Al Rashed – who at that time was working as a spy for Canada. 

This information was allegedly covered up by Canada even while the Metropolitan Police was leading an international search for the trio.

After Britain was eventually informed, it was then also persuaded to keep quiet, it is claimed.

Ms Begum insisted she would have ‘never’ been able to join ISIS without Rashed’s help.

‘He (Rashed) organised the entire trip from Turkey to Syria… I don’t think anyone would have been able to make it to Syria without the help of smugglers,’ she told the BBC. 

‘He had helped a lot of people come in… We were just doing everything he was telling us to do because he knew everything, we didn’t know anything.’

Asked by journalist Joshua Baker whether she ever considered going back on her plan to join the death cult, she said: ‘No, not along the journey.’

Recalling the moment they reached the border, she said: ‘There were Syrian men waiting for us who helped carry our bags and the smuggler told us to go with them across the border. It was very easy.’ 

Just ten days after arriving in the city of Raqqa, Begum, who is of Bangladeshi heritage, was married to a Dutchman named Yago Riedijk, who had converted to Islam.

They had three children together, who all later died from malnourishment or disease. They were a one-year-old girl, a three-month-old boy and a newborn son.

Begum left Raqqa with her husband in January 2017, but they were eventually split up, as she claimed he was arrested for spying, and tortured.

She was eventually found nine months pregnant in a refugee camp in Al-Hawl in February 2019 by a Times journalist.

Begum's Dutch jihadi husband Yago Riedijk, who died fighting for ISIS in Syria

Begum’s Dutch jihadi husband Yago Riedijk, who died fighting for ISIS in Syria

She told Anthony Loyd that she did not regret her decision to join the so-called Islamic State, but said her support for the terror group had faded.

In the shocking interview, she refused to back down from her initial support for the group and said she had not been fazed by the sight of severed heads – a common tactic of ISIS, which regularly disseminated beheading videos online.

Ms Begum told the BBC it ‘didn’t faze me at all’ when she saw her first ‘severed head’, but would ‘do anything required just to be able to come home’.

But the runaway schoolgirl said she did not regret travelling to ISIS-controlled Syria, saying she had a ‘good time’.

Ms Begum was thrust back into the spotlight in February 2019 when she resurfaced at the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria, where she had fled following the collapse of the ISIS ‘caliphate’

That same month she was stripped of her British citizenship by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid after announcing her desire to return to the UK with her unborn third child. He later died of pneumonia at less than three months old.     

Since 2019, Begum has been embroiled in a legal battle with the British government to win the right to return. 

She lost her first appeal to return to the UK but successfully challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal. 

The case then went to the Supreme Court, which largely ruled against Begum but gave her a chance of launching a fresh legal action if she was able to properly instruct solicitors. 

The former jihadi bride has combined her court battle with a PR campaign aimed at convincing the British public she is safe to return.

Ms Begum pictured with a Union Flag cushion in 2020. It was the first time she was seen without her usual black burka

Ms Begum pictured with a Union Flag cushion in 2020. It was the first time she was seen without her usual black burka 

Ms Begum shortly after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019

Ms Begum shortly after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019

Interviewed by Good Morning Britain in 2021, she begged for forgiveness and insisted she was a victim – not a terrorist or a criminal. 

‘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’, she said, before adding she was ‘groomed and taken advantage of and manipulated’. 

Ms Begum denied her Western physical appearance – which was in stark contrast to the traditional Islamic dress she previously adorned – was a publicity stunt.

‘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,’ she said. 

‘And I feel like it makes me happy to not wear the hijab. I’m not doing it for anyone but myself. I’ve had many opportunities to let people take pictures of me without my hijab on, but I did not.’ 

Asked to again justify his decision to ban her from the UK Mr Javid said: ‘I won’t go into details of the case, but what I will say is that you certainly haven’t seen what I saw.’

Intelligence briefings in 2019 suggested Begum had been stitching ISIS terrorists into their suicide vests – ensuring that the devices could not be removed without detonation.

But she insists she only ever stayed at home and looked after her husband. 

Her first son, Jerah, died at the age of eight months; her second child, daughter Sarayah, also perished due to illness. Her third child and second son, Jarrah, died of pneumonia shortly after birth in March 2019. 

Timeline: How Shamima Begum’s dream of joining ISIS saw her exiled

2015

  • February 17 – Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum leave their east London homes at 8am to travel to Istanbul, Turkey, from Gatwick Airport. Begum and Abase are reported missing by their families later the same day.
  • February 18 – Ms Sultana is reported missing to the police.
  • February 20 – The Metropolitan Police launch a public appeal for information on the missing girls who are feared to have gone on to Syria.  The Met expresses concerns that the missing girls may have fled to join ISIS. 
  • February 21 – Four days after the girls went missing, police believe they may still be in Turkey. 
  • February 22 – Ms Abase’s father Abase Hussen says his daughter told him she was going to a wedding on the day she disappeared. 
  • March 10 – It emerges that the girls funded their trip by stealing jewellery.

2016

  • August 2016 – Ms Sultana, then 17, is reported to have been killed in Raqqa in May when a suspected Russian air strike obliterates her house.

2019

  • February 13 – Ms Begum, then 19, tells Anthony Loyd of The Times that she wants to return to the UK to give birth to her third child.
  • Speaking from the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria, Ms Begum tells the paper: ‘I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago. And I don’t regret coming here.’
  • February 15 – Home secretary Sajid Javid says he ‘will not hesitate’ to prevent the return of Britons who travelled to join IS.
  • February 17 – Ms Begum gives birth to her third child – a baby boy, Jarrah – in Al-Hawl. Her two other children, a daughter called Sarayah and a son called Jerah, have both previously died.
  • February 19 – The Home Office sends Ms Begum’s family a letter stating that it intends to revoke her British citizenship.
  • February 20 – Ms Begum, having been shown a copy of the Home Office’s letter by ITV News, describes the decision as ‘unjust’. 
  • February 22 – Ms Begum’s family write to Mr Javid asking for his help to bring her newborn son to Britain. Her sister Renu Begum, writing on behalf of the family, said the baby boy was a ‘true innocent’ who should not ‘lose the privilege of being raised in the safety of this country’.
  • Late February – Ms Begum is moved to the Al-Roj camp in north-eastern Syria, reportedly because of threats to her life made at Al-Hawl following the publication of her newspaper interviews.
  • March 7 – Jarrah dies around three weeks after he was born.
  • March 19 – Ms Begum’s lawyers file a legal action challenging the decision to revoke her citizenship.
  • April 1 – In a further interview with The Times, Ms Begum says she was ‘brainwashed’ and that she wants to ‘go back to the UK for a second chance to start my life over again’. 
  • May 4 – Bangladesh’s foreign minister Abdul Momen says Ms Begum could face the death penalty for involvement in terrorism if she goes to the country, adding that Bangladesh had ‘nothing to do’ with her.  
  • September 29 – Home secretary Priti Patel says there is ‘no way’ she will let Ms Begum return to the UK, adding: ‘We cannot have people who would do us harm allowed to enter our country – and that includes this woman.’ 
  • October 22-25 – Ms Begum’s appeal against the revocation of her British citizenship begins in London. Her barrister Tom Hickman submits the decision has unlawfully rendered her stateless, and exposed her to a ‘real risk’ of torture or death.

2020 

  • February 7 – SIAC rules on Ms Begum’s legal challenge.
  • July 16 – Court of Appeal rules on the case and finds in Ms Begum’s favour.
  • November 23 – Supreme Court hears case. 

2021

  • February 26 – Supreme Court denies her right to enter UK to fight for British citizenship. 

2022

  • August 31 – The BBC trails its new ten-part podcast series, I’m Not A Monster: The Shamima Begum Story. 
  • November – At a five-day hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), Ms Begum’s lawyers argue she was a child trafficking victim. 

2023 

  • February 22 – Ms Begum loses her appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) against the bid to strip her of her British citizenship. 

2024 

  • February 23 – Court of Appeal judges dismiss Ms Begum’s appeal. 



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