UK security minister backs revoking Begum’s passport

Ben Wallace, the UK security minister, has launched an outspoken defence of the government’s handling of the case of Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old woman who joined Isis, saying she was part of a “hard core” who posed a national security risk.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Wallace said he had not softened his views on Ms Begum and the decision by his boss Sajid Javid, home secretary, to revoke her British passport even after her new born baby died last week in a Syrian detention camp.

“That girl [Ms Begum] chose to take herself and then get pregnant in that theatre,” Mr Wallace said. “What you are seeing on your TV screens now are the hard core. You are seeing the men and women who chose to fight, to stay until the very end. They are not on our television screens because they were fleeing. They are on our television screens because they were caught. And people should not forget that.”

Mr Wallace’s comments risk reigniting the public row over the home secretary’s move to block any possible return of Ms Begum, who left her home in east London to join the jihadi group when she was 15 years old.

MPs from across the political spectrum and rights campaigners have accused ministers of being inhumane. They argue that the government should take responsibility for Ms Begum and bring her back to the UK where she could be investigated by police and possibly face trial for terror offences.

Ms Begum’s father has said previously he will challenge the government’s decision to revoke her citizenship. The death last week of her son Jarah, her third child to die since she ran away to join Isis, has only added to the pressure on the government to back down.

Shamima Begum © Sky News

However, Mr Wallace said the issue of Ms Begum’s child should not be allowed to interfere with his primary responsibility to ensure the national security of the UK as it grapples with the risk posed by returning Isis fighters and their families.

“Deprived or not that girl would have been in a camp in Syria and would have given birth in a camp in Syria,” he said. “So trying to say do you regret it because of the baby? I don’t accept that premise. The baby would have been born in [one of] those dreadful camps.

“Every position is based on every individual’s national security case,” he added. “What I see is the intelligence on the threat and my obligation and the home secretary’s obligation is to make sure that threat can be mitigated.

“If that means we have to deprive them [of their nationality] so they don’t come back here and become a recruiting sergeant for more, then we’ll do that.”

A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces is close to driving the remaining few hundred Isis fighters from a small strip of land in eastern Syria’s Euphrates valley.

With victory over the caliphate imminent, the numbers of foreign Isis fighters being held in Kurdish detention camps has been growing. Last month the Syrian Democratic Forces said authorities were holding some 800 foreign fighters, around 700 of their wives and 1500 of their children.

UK security officials estimate around 360 British nationals who joined Isis are left in the Syria region.

Lawyers for Ms Begum’s mother wrote to the home secretary earlier this week asking for him to reconsider his decision to deprive her daughter of her British citizenship as an act of mercy. They also questioned the suggestion — not confirmed by the Home Office — that Ms Begum had her UK passport revoked because she may have held Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, who are from Bangladesh.

Responding to Mr Wallace’s remarks, Tasnime Akunjee, Ms Begum’s lawyer, said: “It is sickening to see a UK politician trying to justify the decision which directly led to the death of a baby. What we are seeing on our TV screens are women and particularly children fleeing fighting. Does Mr Wallace suggest children as young as mere weeks old who are citizens of western countries are themselves terrorists?”



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