LONDON — The family of a pregnant British teenager who ran away to join the Islamic State group urged the government Friday to help bring her home.
Shamima Begum’s family issued a statement appealing for government assistance “as a matter of urgency.” Begum, now 19, resurfaced this week at a refugee camp in Syria where she gave an interview to the Times of London saying she didn’t regret her decision, but wanted to come home.
“Given Shamima’s four-year ordeal, we are concerned that her mental health has been affected by everything that she has seen and endured,” the family said in a statement to Britain’s ITV, describing her words as those of child who had been groomed by IS recruiters.
Begum was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to Syria to marry IS fighters in 2015 at a time when the group’s online recruitment program lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.
Her comments raise larger questions about how Western societies will deal with others who joined IS, but want to return to their home countries now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.
Though it is unclear whether Begum has committed any crime, her apparent lack of remorse has triggered criticism from many who believe her decision makes her a permanent pariah in Britain.
The head of Britain’s MI6 security service, Alex Younger, has warned that Britons returning from Islamic State are likely to have acquired “potentially very dangerous” skills and connections.
Though he didn’t comment on the Begum case, Younger said that while U.K. nationals have a “right” to come home, public safety was the first priority.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the Times he “will not hesitate” to prevent the return of Britons who “supported terrorist organizations abroad.” But others have appealed for mercy, noting Begum’s age when she fled.
Though the family said they were “shocked” by her comments, they said she should “be returned to the U.K. and be dealt with under the British justice system.”
“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,” they said in the statement. “Shamima’s child who will also be British has every right as a total innocent to have the chance to grow up in the peace and security of this home.”