Britain's home secretary Sajid Javid has warned he "will not hesitate" to prevent the return of Britons who traveled to join ISIS, as debate raged over what should happen to runaway schoolgirl Shamima Begum.
Setting out a hardline stance on Friday, the Home Secretary said those who left the UK to join ISIS were "full of hate for our country".
It emerged yesterday that the runaway schoolgirl, who is now 19 and heavily pregnant, wants to return to the UK after fleeing to Syria four years ago to become an ISIS bride.
Begum, who fled to Syria in 2015, told The Times she would "do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child".
Her family have pleaded for the 19-year-old, who is heavily pregnant, to be shown mercy and be allowed to return home to east London.
The Home Secretary said he would use powers available to him to prevent Begum from coming back to Britain, and warned that she faced a criminal investigation if she did manage to come back.
He said: “We must remember that those who left Britain to join Daesh were full of hate for our country.
“My message is clear. If you have supported terrorist organizations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.
“If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.”
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, echoed Javid’s harsh tone, saying he was ‘deeply, deeply untrusting’ of Begum.
He said: “If she does return, she needs to be very carefully watched and perhaps prosecuted. This is not a trivial matter. She hasn’t just gone for a bit of a holiday and come back. She’s done something really quite appalling and sided with a violent enemy.”
Security Minister Ben Wallace also warned that runaways who now want to come back must realize that “actions have consequences”.
Begum was one of three schoolgirls, along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, from Bethnal Green Academy who left the UK in February 2015.
The teenager’s family has pleaded for her to be shown mercy.
Speaking on Question Time, leading Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Shamina Begum was under the age of consent when she was married in Syria. She has had two babies that have died. We must have some sympathy for someone who has been abused.”
Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6, said: “Even (Begum), as unrepentant as she may be, should be given a chance, if we are to stand by our values – and if we believe our society is strong enough to reabsorb a 15-year-old who went badly off the rails.”
Anthony Loyd, The Times correspondent who found her, said she was a “15-year-old schoolgirl who made a terrible mistake… and we must do out best to rehabilitate her amongst our own people”.
While no official operation to remove Begum from Syria will be carried out, questions have been raised over whether Britain would be able to prevent her from returning to the UK.
As a British citizen, Begum has a right to live in the UK and former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile told the BBC that if she has not gained a second citizenship of another country she would have to be allowed back to her homeland because under international law a person cannot be made ‘stateless’.
The teenager is currently living in a refugee camp in northern Syria, where she is being held alongside around 40,000 other family members of ISIS fighters.
Human rights lawyer Shoaib Khan said it was unclear how the government could legally prevent Begum’s return, as any attempt to permanently prevent her return while she remained a British citizen would be unlawful.
"Despite the rhetoric from the home secretary, which is clearly an attempt by him to just appear tough, it is unclear how the government can legally prevent her return,” The Independent quoted him as saying.
“Her parents are of Bangladeshi origin, but there is no indication she is Bangladeshi. If she does not have Bangladeshi, or any other, nationality, then revoking her British citizenship would render her stateless, which contravenes international law.
“Also, while she is British, her baby, born anywhere in the world, would be British. Any attempt by the government to prevent that British baby entering the UK would obviously be almost certainly unlawful, whatever the mother’s actions have been before the birth.”
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