RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: She’s not the same little girl who ran away – and that’s what worries me

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Should the repatriation of jihadi bride Shamima Begum go according to the usual script, she will arrive back in Britain on a private jet, chartered at tax- payers’ expense.

After a tearful reunion with her family, she will be whisked off to the BBC and interviewed sympathetically on the Today programme about the British and American ‘aggression’ which caused her to join ISIS.

We will hear how she was forced to cower in fear as Coalition bombs rained down indiscriminately on innocent women and children.

Ms Begum will talk about the terrible racism and ‘Islamophobia’ she suffered growing up in the East End of London and how she came to believe she could only find true safety and fulfilment living in the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Shamima Begum (pictured above) ho left Britain as a 15-year-old to join the Islamic State group

Shamima Begum (pictured above) before she left her family in Bethnal Green, London

After being fast-tracked up the housing waiting list, she will move into a council flat with her new baby, claiming an assortment of benefits and reinventing herself as a ‘yuman rites’ activist.

Pretty soon, she’ll be reviewing the papers on Sky News and writing a column in the Guardian.

She’ll probably sue the Government for compensation. On legal aid, naturally. And win.

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If we’re very lucky, her celebrity will wane eventually and she’ll be content living a normal life, quietly bringing up her child to be a model British citizen.

Worst case scenario, she straps half a pound of Semtex under her burka and detonates it on a Circle Line Tube train, blowing herself and dozens of other passengers to Kingdom Come.

So is she a victim or a villain? The jury’s out, when it should be in the pub over the road with a well-earned pint to celebrate a unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict.

While I sympathise with those who believe we should strip her of British citizenship and leave her to rot in hell, we are being urged to remember, in mitigation, she was only 15 when she ran away from home with two school friends.

Shamima Begum (pictured above) at Gatwick airport before boarding a flight to Turkey

But most girls of that age rebel by getting their navel pierced, or dyeing their hair green.

They don’t travel thousands of miles to team up with a fanatical religious army, murdering and torturing its way across the Middle East.

Apologists for Ms Begum insist she was just a typical, happy-go-lucky teenager before being radicalised in her bedroom via social media platforms such as Twitter.

The cynical tech giants certainly exercise an irresponsible, pernicious influence over impressionable young minds, callously disseminating all manner of mayhem and filth.

The sites she and her friends followed featured gruesome images of hostages being beheaded, men in cages being set on fire and children mutilated.

Who in their right mind looks approvingly at such depraved, blood-curdling material and decides: ‘I wouldn’t mind some of that’?

Yet Shamima Begum and her friends went to great lengths to become Izal brides, intent on breeding a new generation of jihadis.

15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Shamima Begum before catching a flight to Turkey in 2015

She’s currently pregnant with her third child, by a Dutch Islamic convert, after two previous children died of illness and malnutrition.

Now that a Times correspondent has tracked her down to a refugee camp in Syria, she says all she wants to do is come ‘home’ to Britain.

She wouldn’t be saying that if Izal hadn’t been defeated militarily. She managed to get out just before the terrorists’ last stand.

Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister’s photo while being interviewed by the media at New Scotland Yard

By her own admission, married life in Raqqa was ‘normal’ and the ‘one I wanted’. Presumably, if the caliphate hadn’t been routed, she’d still be more than happy buttering the toast of her semi-detached jihadi Mr Most.

Certainly, she remains unrepentant. ‘When I saw my first severed head in a bin, it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.’

That head might have belonged to a British aid worker, for all she knew and cared. As far as she was concerned, all infidels are the enemy.

Fact is, Ms Begum didn’t have to travel all the way to Syria to bask in the full glow of radical Islamism. Bethnal Green, where she grew up, the place she now calls ‘home’, is part of the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets, a virtual Muslim monoculture, right next to the City of London.

The old East End of pearly kings, knees-ups down the rub-a-dub, and gentlemen gangsters who only ever killed their own kind, is long gone. These days Tower Hamlets is a hotbed of fundamentalism. I bet there are more burkas per square yard in Bethnal Green than there are in Bangladesh.

The streets have been patrolled by Islamist vigilantes, menacing women walking alone in ‘immodest’ clothing and terrorising corner shops selling alcohol.

Girls don’t need to go online to be radicalised. They can hear extremist views being peddled in their own backyard.

It’s hardly surprising that some impressionable young men and women fall for the romantic vision of jihad and decide to become terrorists themselves, both abroad and at home.

The schizophrenic attitude of the authorities hasn’t helped, either. I’m not uttering a syllable of criticism against the police anti-terror squad, or the security services who strive valiantly every day to keep us safe.

Yet while politicians talk tough on terror, ever since 9/11 they have pursued a policy of appeasement, hoping a positive, softly-softly approach will reap dividends.

Some hope. Creeping Islamification has gathered pace in British inner-city areas like Tower Hamlets.

This has led to segregation and separate development, creating the conditions in which young Muslims are susceptible to the more extremist interpretations of Islam and may become cannon fodder for terrorist groups.

A couple of years ago, the Government released a report which said that decades of relatively successful integration in Britain had gone into reverse.

The Prevent programme, which was supposed to identify youngsters at risk of falling prey to radicalisation, is widely held to have been a failure.

For too long, hate preachers have been tolerated. Look at the eternity it took Britain to round up Captain Hook, the Ayatollah of Finsbury Park, who was even given a police escort to rant and rave in the street when moderate Muslims quite properly kicked him out of their mosque.

It was left to the Americans to bang him up in a supermax jail, where he belongs, after executing an extradition warrant.

Here, he’d be walking the streets again, along with his evil sidekick Ram Jam Choudary, the terrorist recruiting sergeant with links to a string of attacks, including the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

In September 2016, Ram Jam was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for supporting Islamic State, but was released on licence after serving just over two years.

Fusilier Lee Rigby (pictured above) was killed in Woolwich

Tough on terror, tough on the causes of terror? I don’t think so, do you?

So what should we do with Shamima Begum? And must we take her story at face value?

Our authorities have a habit of believing every British citizen captured in war zones. Funny how none of them have ever been involved in fighting.

They were on a humanitarian aid mission. Or, in the case of the Tipton Taliban, who were picked up in Afghanistan, they claimed to have travelled there to take a computer course. As you do.

Those ‘British detainees’ — not all of them actual citizens — were given a rock star’s welcome when they arrived home from Guantanamo Bay, some by private jet. And interviewed sympathetically by the BBC and papers like the Guardian.

So I was only half-joking when I suggested that’s what might lie in store for Ms Begum.

We only have her word that all she did in Syria was get married and keep house.

In 2017, when Izal went into retreat, the terrorists lifted the ban on women bearing arms. Did she pick up a gun? Who knows.

It is a fact that she joined a jihadist army, which took British hostages, murdered, raped and tortured countless civilians, and claims responsibility for mounting terrorists attacks in 70 cities around the world, including London.

Alarmingly, of the 450 Izal fighters who have returned to Britain, only 40 have been prosecuted.

If she does come ‘home’, Shamima Begum deserves to be given a long, exemplary prison sentence. But there’s no guarantee she would even be charged.

‘I’m not the same, silly 15-year-old girl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,’ she says.

That’s what worries me. Now she’s a hardened, grown woman with four years’ experience of being a member of one of the world’s nastiest terrorist organisations. Do we really want to welcome her back?

On balance, it’s probably best if we strip her of her citizenship and let her rot in Syria.

Q&A: Can Shamima Begum come back to Britain and what happens if she does return?

Can Shamima Begum come back to Britain?

Begum is likely to face many obstacles to returning to the UK. Not least is the fact that she is being held in a secure section of a refugee camp. Security minister Ben Wallace has ruled out any rescue, saying he will not risk UK lives to ‘go and look for terrorists or former terrorists’. If the Kurds in control of the camp hand her over to Iraq or Turkey, she could be put on trial and jailed. However, she could also walk into a British consulate and demand help to be brought home to the UK.

Can the UK strip her of her citizenship?

Ministers have stripped jihadis and Islamic State brides of their citizenship and banned them from returning to Britain. But the ‘deprivation orders’ can be issued only to those with dual nationality – which does not apply in Begum’s case. Ministers cannot take away citizenship if it would leave a suspect stateless.

What happens if she does return to Britain?

She would be arrested. Mr Wallace has said everyone who returned from taking part in the conflict in Syria and Iraq must be investigated by police. Scotland Yard would launch an investigation to determine if she committed any crimes, and if she poses a threat to national security.

Would she be prosecuted?

After Begum and her friends travelled to Syria, the head of counter-terrorism at the time, Met Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, said: ‘They have no reason to fear, if nothing else comes to light, that we will be treating them as terrorists.’ Tasnime Akunjee, the solicitor for the families of the three girls, said: ‘Effectively, this is immunity.’ The Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, said in 2017 that it was right that those who travelled to Syria out of naivety at a young age and who returned in a state of ‘utter disillusionment’ should be diverted away from the criminal courts.

What offences could Begum be charged with?

Ministers are introducing terror laws to target IS fighters who cannot be prosecuted for other crimes because of a lack of proof. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill would make it an offence punishable by up to ten years in jail for anyone to enter a ‘designated area’ abroad unless they can provide a ‘reasonable excuse’. But the proposed legislation could not be applied retrospectively to Begum. The sentence for being a member of IS, or supporting the group, is up to ten years in jail. Other offences that could be considered include disseminating terrorist materials, terrorist fundraising and terrorist training. Any involvement in killings could lead to a murder charge.

How easy would it be to bring a prosecution in Britain?

Even if Begum assisted in atrocities or committed other crimes such as encouraging others to go to Syria, it would be difficult to prove. Jihadis returning to their home countries have been prosecuted on the basis of fingerprints recovered by American troops from bomb parts on the battlefield, but it is unlikely that evidence would have been gathered on the activities of a 15-year-old jihadi bride.

So how will she be treated by the UK authorities?

Begum is likely to be given a temporary exclusion order (TEO), which would last for a maximum of two years. The order, which she has to agree to in order to get back into the country, is approved by a judge before being issued by the Home Secretary. It makes it illegal for an extremist to return to the UK without informing the authorities and agreeing to be monitored.It is supported by cancelling their passport and adding their names to terrorist and criminal watch lists against which every person arriving in Britain is checked. Anyone on a TEO has to agree to a range of conditions, including taking part in de-radicalisation programmes and strict police supervision.

By Rebecca Camber 

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