Shamima Begum SHOULD be allowed to return to UK to break cycle of extremism – report

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Begum, who left the UK aged 15 to join ISIS, travelling to Syria, hit the deadlines last year when she announced her intention to return, a move which was subsequently blocked by the Home Office. However, the report, written by ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan and published on the Soufan Centre, a think tank focused on global security issues and emergent threats, advocates a dramatic change of policy.

Mr Soufan acknowledged there was enormous reluctance in the West at the idea of allowing those suspected of playing a direct role in fighting for the Islamic State to return, understandably concerned as they were about terrorism and radicalisation.

However, citing recent research by terrorism expert Thomas Renard, he said: “More often than not, those who do return to their countries of origin after leaving the caliphate look back upon the Islamic State with a combination of despair and disillusionment.

“To be clear, there is still a real and tangible threat posed by individuals who are susceptible to the siren call of jihadist propaganda. But this has always been the case.

“Interestingly, although with some exceptions, the threat posed by those who never left, and thus never experienced the horrors of the caliphate, could be more significant than from those who left home to fight with the Islamic State before returning home.”

Factors including a rise in right-wing extremism throughout Europe, and complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic, would exacerbate budget shortfalls, meaning law enforcement agencies would be unable to focus as intently on countering jihadist-related violence, Mr Soufan warned.

However, he added: “Even so, leaving one’s citizens as ‘stateless’ almost guarantees that these individuals will have no other options but to consider themselves citizens of the Islamic State.

European and other Western nations should strongly reconsider their stance on repatriation

Ali Soufan

“European and other Western nations should strongly reconsider their stance on repatriation and, despite the challenges involved, bring home their citizens to break the cycle of extremism and radicalisation and demonstrate their commitment to justice.”

In recent weeks a number of Western countries, including France and the Netherlands, have taken steps to repatriate their citizens and children of Islamic State fighters who may have been born in the so-called caliphate.

Mr Soufan stressed: “Foreigners, many from European countries, continue to languish in squalid detention camps in northeastern Syria, where experts have continuously warned about the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of those being held, with children particularly vulnerable.

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“Within the camps there are often shortages of food and water, disease is rampant, and children have little access to education.

“If the coronavirus reaches the camp and begins to spread, the consequences will be devastating.”

British born-Begum, who is currently living in one of the camps, is now aged 20 or 21, and had three children while living in Syria, all of whom have since died.

She was stripped of her UK citizenship by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, with the UK Government insisting she was not rendered stateless because she holds, or is eligible for, Bangladeshi citizenship.

However, a statement issued by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week said: “The clear position of the government of Bangladesh is British citizen Shamima was never a Bangladeshi citizen.

“Shamima Begum doesn’t have any rights in this regard and there is no scope to allow her to enter Bangladesh.”

Speaking in September, newly appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel stressed there was no way she would be allowed back into the UK.

She added: “Our job is to keep our country safe.

“We cannot have people who would do us harm allowed to enter our country – and that includes this woman.

“Everything I see in terms of security and intelligence, I am simply not willing to allow anybody who has been an active supporter or campaigner of IS in this country.”

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