Not so innocent: Begum was a ‘strict enforcer’ for IS in Syria
Contrary to her version of events, it appears the British teen was very much wedded to the terror group's brutality
Shamima Begum, the London schoolgirl who fled to Syria, served in the Islamic State’s “morality police” and also tried to recruit other young women to join the jihadist group, well-placed sources say.
She was allowed to carry a Kalashnikov rifle and earned a reputation as a strict “enforcer” of IS’s laws, such as women’s dress codes, sources claimed.
The claims are at odds with Begum’s own account of her years with the group, which she joined at the age of 15. Begum, now 19, has insisted she was never involved in IS’s brutality but spent her time in Syria as a devoted housewife to a jihadist.
Begum, whose discovery in a refugee camp in northern Syria in February caused a public outcry in the UK, said she concentrated on bringing up her children, who later died of malnutrition. Her husband, Yago Riedijk, a Dutch fighter, said Begum just “sat in the house” and that she would pose no danger if allowed back to the UK.
But this publication has been able to piece together a different account of Begum’s life inside the world’s most brutal terrorist group, one which could complicate any possible return to the UK.
She has been stripped of her British citizenship, but lawyers are planning a legal challenge to overturn the decision.
Details of her alleged role in IS have come from two separate sources, including an anti-IS activist group Sound and Picture, whose members lived under the jihadists’ rule and closely followed its members.
Some of the details have been confirmed by Western intelligence, which is understood to be looking into the allegations as part of a criminal inquiry.
Military and religious training
According to Sound and Picture, Begum arrived in Syria after crossing the Turkey border in February 2015. She was then taken, along with two other Bethnal Green schoolgirls, to the central city of Raqqa, which had become the capital of IS’s self-declared caliphate.
They were sent to a “madhafa” or guesthouse for single women, where she was married. Activists then claim that she then enrolled in al-Tala’ia camp just south of the Euphrates in Raqqa province, and stayed for three months receiving “military and religious training.”
After that, she and Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, the other two Bethnal Green girls, are said to have graduated to the Khansaa Battalion, a notorious all-female “police squad” which had other British members in its ranks, including Muslim convert Sally Jones. Begum is then alleged to have worked for several months in al-Hisba, IS’s religious enforcement unit.
Most of the women in the Hisba took up roles on a voluntary basis and the position gave them an elevated status.
“There were lots of young European women in the Hisba,” Aghiad al-Kheder, founder of Sound and Picture, said. “Some of them were very harsh and the local population became very scared.”
He said Begum carried a Kalashnikov rifle and had a reputation for being strict on women she thought were behaving in a “non-Islamic” way, according to IS’s punitive rules. He believes that in her role, which paid between £500 (R9,120) and £1,500 a month, she probably ordered the imprisonment and lashing of women in Raqqa.
During her time in IS she is also thought to have been actively trying to recruit other women across Europe. This publication has also been shown messages reportedly sent by Begum to a number of girls, including a teenager from Austria in mid-2015. She used the pseudonym “Umm Asma” before changing it to “Umm Ahmed” (meaning Mother of Ahmed). “Don’t believe any of the bad things you hear about Dawla [the State], it’s fake. You have everything you want here,” she told one girl. “And we can help find you a good-looking husband.”
Begum and Riedijk moved from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor in early 2017 just as the city was coming under assault from Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and while she was pregnant with their first child. It was after the birth that she was said to have transferred from the Hisba to the women’s “military police”, remaining with them, Kheder said, “until the end”.
The couple were among the last to leave IS territory, counting themselves among the most hardcore supporters. Begum admitted she had chances to leave but did not take them. She said she “respected” the decision made by Abase and Sharmeena Begum, a fourth London schoolgirl, to stay, saying she only surrendered out of concern for her unborn baby.Begum said the two were still alive when she left the final pocket of Baghuz, which fell in March. However, their names are not on recent camp registration documents seen by this publication, raising the prospect they may have been killed in fighting.Counter-terrorism police are now trying to build cases against many of the Britons in the eventuality they are allowed home.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)