Shamima Begum has told a BBC documentary filmmaker she was “in love with the idea of Isis” and their atrocities would have happened if she was “there or not”.
The 23-year-old former death cult member has been given a wide ranging interview in a BBC podcast and feature documentary as part of the I’m Not A Monster series by journalist Josh Baker.
The award-winning filmmaker met the jihadi bride over the course of more than a year at Syrian prison camp al-Roj for the ten-part BBC investigative podcast and feature documentary, The Shamima Begum Story.
Writing in The Times Mr Baker said “little is really known” about what happened and how Shamima ended up traveling aged 15 to become a member of a brutal genocidal regime.
Shamima Begum, whose case is currently being reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, has been given an unprecedented platform with the BBC series and podcast.
Mr Baker said the question “of what to do with Begum” is playing out and he asks: “Did the government consider her vulnerability when they removed her citizenship?” Should they review their decision? Is she a willing participant in terror? A threat? And the victim? Or perhaps both?”
The journalist says Begum is a “divisive puzzle” and her story touches on “gender, race, security, religion and identity”.
In 2019 Times correspondent Anthony Loyd was the first to discover Begum in Syria when she was nine months pregnant. The child, and two others born under ISIS, have passed away.
In those first interviews with Loyd, Begum infamously said “when I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all” and how the gruesome trophy was from “an enemy of Islam”. Just days later in an interview with the BBC Begum went on to say there was “justification” for the Manchester Bombings because of ISIS losses in Syria and Iraq, calling it a “a two-way thing”.
Interviews with Begum grew in short supply from this point as she appeared to lose trust in the media.
But before Mr Baker’s BBC documentary, which is about to air at 9pm on BBC Two on February 7, Begum had started to talk to journalists again.
In June 2021, filmmaker Andrew Drury managed to get her to talk once more when she had apparently changed her tune, telling him she wanted to come home and that: “I don’t think I was a terrorist. I think I was just a dumb kid who made one mistake.”
A live interview from al-Roj camp followed with Good Morning Britain, where Begum said: “No one can hate me more than I hate myself for what I’ve done. All I can say is I’m sorry and just give me a second chance.”
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In her interview with Mr Baker Begum bemoans the lack of mint chocolate in the Middle East which she is a fan of, especially the brand, Mint Eros. She says: “Not those big bars, but like the ones with the four inside… You can find a lot of things in this country but you cannot find mint chocolate. It’s a tragedy. Tragedies.”
Mr Baker says the admission is a “glimpse into the 15-year-old girl who left London”, and Begum tells him she thought she was heading for a “utopia” under ISIS.
When pressing the former Bethnal Green schoolgirl about her knowledge of the atrocities committed by ISIS in their mission to create an Islamic “utopia”, Mr Baker says her answers are “unconvincing”.
She tells him she “did not know” about the atrocities and genocide being committed and that she thought people saying they were happening, were “trying to make ISIS look bad”.
Mr Baker’s description of his interview includes the former jihadi bride eventually admitting she was “in denial” about the brutality of ISIS because she “was in love” with the “idea of ISIS”.
Speaking about love Begum also recounts her marriage to Dutch ISIS convert Yago Riedijk who was 22 when she arrived in Syria aged 15. Begum says she “wanted to be loved” and that she thought her husband “was doing the right thing” fighting to Islamic States.
Mr Baker writes that there have been “many accusations” about Begum’s life in the caliphate but that she denies being part of any active ISIS operations, including sewing suicide vests or being part of the religious police.
Begum says she cannot take “responsibility for other people’s actions” and that she is “ashamed of myself” for being “so stupid”. The inmate in Syria said ISIS atrocities would have happened “regardless of whether I was there or not”.
Mr Baker writes his conversations with Begum, who he describes as “national hate figure”, often felt like “trying to navigate three personalities”
He said: “She’s stuck in a dusty tent near the perimeter fence of a semi-secure detention camp in the barren landscape of northern Syria. Some say she must stay there for our safety, others that she must come back.”
The Shamima Begum Story airs on BBC2 at 9pm on February 7, or watch on BBC iPlayer. New episodes of the podcast are available weekly on Wednesdays on BBC Sounds
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