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IS bride Shamima Begum tells Sky News: 'A lot of people should have sympathy for me'

18 February

IS bride Shamima Begum has told Sky News "a lot of people should have sympathy" for her as she spoke of her wish to return to the UK.

The 19-year-old, who has just given birth to a baby boy in a Syrian refugee camp, also said the UK authorities had no evidence of her "doing anything dangerous", in response to concerns she could pose a security threat.
:: Read the full interview transcript here
In the interview with Sky correspondent John Sparks she claimed she was "just a housewife" during her four years in the terrorist caliphate in Syria, where she married a young Dutch IS fighter called Yago Riedijk three weeks after she arrived in the country in 2015.
While she was aware of beheadings and executions being carried out by the extremists but she was "okay with it", because she had heard "Islamically that is allowed".
The teen mother also could not see "any reason" why her newborn son would be taken away from her if she returned to Britain.
She revealed she had been radicalised by watching videos on the internet shortly before leaving Britain as a 15-year-old schoolgirl to join IS four years ago.
And she begged her family not to give up trying to get her back to Britain, having previously given them "a big slap in the face" by ignoring their pleas to return.
Questions have been raised over whether Britain would be able to prevent her eventual return to the UK.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned he "will not hesitate" to prevent the return of Britons who travelled to join IS, but Justice Secretary David Gauke told Sky News: "We can't make people stateless."
Shamima Begum said: "I think a lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I have been through.
"I didn't know what I was getting into when I left.
"I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they'd let me come back.
"Because I can't live in this camp forever."
The head of MI6 Alex Younger has warned would-be returnees were "potentially very dangerous", given that someone who had been in "that sort of position" was likely to have acquired certain "skills or connections".
But she claimed: "They don't have any evidence against me doing anything dangerous.
"When I went to Syria I was just a housewife for the entire four years. Stayed at home took care of my kids.
"I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria."
She was also seemingly relaxed over the brutality of IS rule, which included beheadings.
She said: "Yeah, I knew about those things and I was okay with it.
"From what I heard, Islamically that is all allowed so I was okay with it."
Prominent London-based imam Ajmal Masroor told Sky News this was not the case.
"Show me where in the sayings of the prophet does it say it's justifiable? In fact, God says contrary - taking one innocent life is like taking the lives of the entire humanity," he said.
"Shamima, where does it say the beheading of non-Muslims - people who disagree with you - is allowed? Where does it say that?"
Shamima Begum was one of three schoolgirls, along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, who travelled together to Syria.
While Kadiza Sultana was reported to have been killed in an airstrike in 2016, she did not know what had happened to her other friend.
She had two other children - a boy and a girl - during her time with IS, but both died young due to sickness.
She has named her new baby after her first son.
She said the baby boy was the reason she wanted to return to the UK.
She said: "I left because of him... trying to give him a better life. I would try my best to keep him with me.
"I don't see any reason why they would take him away from me."
But striking an unrepentant note, she added: "I don't regret it because it's changed me as a person. It's made me stronger, tougher.
"I married my husband. I would not have had someone like him back in the UK.
"I had my kids. I did have a good time there."
Despite this, in a personal plea to her family she said: "Please don't give up on trying to get me back, I really don't want to stay here.
"I am sorry for leaving."
The lawyer representing the teenager's family said they were "very concerned" about the welfare of the newborn child and were hoping the baby and Shamima Begum would be brought back to the UK.
Mohammed Akunjee told Sky News: "We are hoping that the Home Office are able to supply travel documents for the child, the grandchild, who is entirely innocent of everything in this... And whatever Shamima will need to face, in terms of British law and justice, then she will have to face that."

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IS bride Shamima Begum full transcript: 'It was nice at first, like in the videos'

18 February

Sky News has spoken to IS bride Shamima Begum in an exclusive interview just hours after she gave birth to a baby boy in a Syrian refugee camp.

The 19-year-old was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London who travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State in 2015.
Sky correspondent John Sparks interviewed the teenager at the refugee camp.
Here is the full exchange:
Tell me a bit about the child.
It's a boy. I named him after my old son [who died] - that's what my husband wanted.
What are conditions like in the camp?
Right now it's okay. I get fed and I have a heater, but it's kind of difficult going around doing stuff yourself - especially now I have a child.
Will you be able to care for him here?
It's going to be a bit difficult because right now I don't have money.
For people without money, it's hard to get around with the amount of things they give us.
Is life in the camp better than it was in Baghuz over the last few months?
Definitely. I mean, I'm not starving, I have a roof over my head, whereas before I was sleeping outside.
There was no medical care so everyone was getting sick. My kids died because of sickness. So yeah.
You have obviously been through a lot over the last few years. Can you describe what it has been like to live with and under the Islamic State?
At first it was nice, it was like how they showed it in the videos, like 'come, make a family together'.
Then afterwards, things got harder, you know. When we lost Raqqa we had to keep moving and moving and moving. The situation got difficult.
Was there a point when you started to have second thoughts about your life under Islamic State?
Only at the end, after my son died. I realised I had to get out for the sake of my children - for the sake of my daughter and my baby. Yeah.
Only at the end?
Yeah.
You didn't have any regrets up until that point?
No.
What was it about Islamic State that attracted you? What did you like about it?
The way they showed that you can go [to Syria] and they'll take care of you.
You can have your own family, do anything. You're living under Islamic law.
Did you know what Islamic State were doing when you left for Syria? Because they had beheaded people. There were executions.
Yeah, I knew about those things and I was okay with it. Because, you know, I started becoming religious just before I left.
From what I heard, Islamically that is all allowed. So I was okay with it.
You didn't question that?
No, not at all.
There's a struggle going on in the UK now about whether you should be allowed to come home or not.
Yeah, I know.
What are your feelings about that?
I think a lot of people should have, like, sympathy towards me for everything I've been through.
I didn't know what I was getting into when I left and I just was hoping that for the sake of me and my child, they could let me come back.
Because I can't live in this camp forever. It's not really possible.
The head of the intelligence services in the UK says people like you are potentially very dangerous. What would you say to him?
They don't have any evidence against me doing anything dangerous.
When I went to Syria, I was just a housewife for the entire four years - stayed at home, took care of my husband, took care of my kids.
I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria.
They don't really have proof that I did anything that is dangerous.
Your family have made an appeal for you to come home. They are pleading with the British government for you to come home. Do you have a message for your family?
You know, just keep trying to get me back. I really don't want to stay here.
I don't want to take care of my child in this camp, because I'm afraid he might even die in this camp.
What do you think life would be like back in the UK?
I don't know. Because I know there would be a lot of restrictions on me, I wouldn't be free to do things that I used to be able to do.
I don't know if they'll take my child away and all these things. That's one of my biggest priorities.
I left because of him, so I don't want him to be taken away from me and I'm just trying to give him a better life.
If the authorities took the child away from you, would you accept that?
It would be hard to accept. I would try my best to keep him with me.
I don't see any reason why they would take him away from me.
There are concerns because of what you have been through, views that people think you may have or still have in regard to Islamic State.
That's something they have to question me about before they take my child away, I guess.
One question that people are asking is whether you can be rehabilitated.
It would be really hard because of everything I've been through now.
I'm still kind of in the mentality of having planes over my head and an emergency backpack and starving, all these things.
I think it would be a big shock to go back to the UK and start life again.
May I ask, what was it that attracted you? Was it from watching videos, was there somebody who recruited you? What was it that prompted a 15-year-old girl to go to Syria?
During the time I left, al-Dawla (Islamic State) was on the news and stuff, and like a lot of videos were coming out and I saw all the videos on the internet and that just kind of attracted me to them.
Like it attracted a lot of people.
Do you know whether your friend Amira Abase [who she travelled to Syria with in 2015] is still alive?
I don't know. I haven't heard from her in a long time.
How did you feel when your other friend, Kadiza Sultana, died?
It was a big shock because it was at the beginning of when we left. It was maybe a year after we left. It wasn't something I suspected.
Like, now if I heard that Amira was dead, I wouldn't be surprised.
I would be hurt obviously, but I wouldn't be surprised because of the situation she's still in.
When Kadiza died the situation was still good in Raqqa, it just came out of nowhere.
Do you feel that you have made a mistake? When you look back at what you've been through over the last four years, do you feel like you've made a mistake?
A mistake in going to al-Dawla?
Yes, a mistake in coming here, living under Islamic State.
In a way, yes, but I don't regret it because it's changed me as a person.
It's made me stronger, tougher. I married my husband. I wouldn't have found someone like him back in the UK.
I had my kids. I did have a good time there, it's just that at the end things got harder and I couldn't take it anymore.
I had to leave.
Have you had any contact with your husband, does he know that you have had a child?
No, I don't know how to get in contact. I don't know if they'd let me get in contact with him and I don't know where he is right now.
I would like to get in contact with him.
Have consular officials from the British government been in touch with you?
No, just another journalist, that's it.
Are you able to see the news coverage centring on you?
No, I don't have my phone, I can't go on the internet, I don't know what's going on around me right now.
Just getting in contact with my family was difficult. I just got lucky, I guess.
You have had some contact with them have you?
Yeah the last journalist that came he contacted my family for me.
Do you have a message for them?
Just please don't give up on me. Try to get me back I really don't want to stay here.
It must have been a terrible shock for your family when you left.
They were [shocked]. Because at first obviously they did try and ask me to come back, but I kept saying no.
Then they gave up, and now I'm kind of, after four years I'm asking them for help now.
It's kind of, a big slap in the face to them.
But I really need the help.
What would you say to them?
I'm sorry for leaving.
Do you feel that there is the possibility of a good future for you and your son?
Yes, if the UK are willing to take me back and help me start a new life again.
I'm just trying to move on from everything that's happened over the last four years.

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'She sounded largely unrepentant': What happened when Sky News tracked down Shamima Begum

18 February

We had just about given up in the al-Hawl displacement camp in northeastern Syria.

It is not an easy place to get to but we had made the trip in the hope of speaking to the British teenager Shamima Begum.
She arrived at the camp two weeks ago after fleeing the village of Baghuz where IS is making its last stand.
We spoke to the facility's manager and drank a cup of tea - and another one.
He said they were looking for her in the camp, which now houses 40,000 people, but they were having trouble finding her.
It was the work of The Times reporter Anthony Loyd that had brought us there.
In his interview with the 19-year-old, conducted last week, she had sounded largely unrepentant.
Life under IS had been "normal", she said. The sight of a severed head in a dustbin, "didn't faze me at all".
Critically, the teenager said she wanted to come back to Britain.
She was pregnant and wanted to bring up the child there.
:: Read the full interview transcript here
Her comments generated a furious debate in the UK.
Some say Shamima Begum should be banned for treason - others argue she deserves a second chance.
Top politicians have also weighed in with Home Secretary Sajid Javid promising that he "will not hesitate" to keep people like the 19-year-old out of the country.
I had my own list of questions for her.
Was the former Bethnal Green schoolgirl aware of the national debate now centring on her future?
Would she choose a more apologetic approach when explaining her involvement in IS?
Most importantly perhaps, did she think she could be rehabilitated?
After three hours or so at the camp office I did not think I would get a chance to ask her those questions, but we heard a whisper from a camp worker that she might have been taken to a local hospital for treatment.
We walked over to the place where the ambulances are parked and my colleague poked his head in a portacabin.
Shamima Begum was there, sitting on a table, a few hours after giving birth to a baby boy.
"Would you like do an interview?" asked my colleague.
"We are from Sky News."
"No way. Really?" came the response in an earthy London accent.
We spoke to the teenager for about 15 minutes and she answered my questions clearly and confidently.
For someone who had fled a war zone and just given birth, she struck me as stoic and composed - but she seemed utterly unaware of the implications of her decisions since leaving London in 2015.
In our interview she described life in IS like this: "It was nice. It was like how they showed it in the videos - come make a family together."
She also felt that people in Britain would welcome her back. She said: "A lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I've been through. I didn't know what I was getting into when I left and I was hoping that for the sake of me and my child, they could let me come back."
What struck me, more than anything perhaps, was her honesty.
I have interviewed former IS soldiers and family members on previous assignments and they tend to skate over their personal actions - and disown the organisation as a whole.
But Shamima Begum does not. She embraced life in IS. She was happy.
She says she married a wonderful man in IS (27-year old Dutchman called Yago Reidijk, now being held in a Kurdish prison).
For parliamentarians and ministers and the public-at-large, this poses a huge challenge.
What are our obligations to Shamima Begum - a young woman and British citizen - who is not ready to apologise?
But if we do not take her, who will?
The Kurds in northern Syria are absolutely overwhelmed.
One thing is certain. The rehabilitation of this 19-year-old will not be easy - something that she freely admits.
She said: "It would be really hard because of everything I've been through now.
"I'm still kind of in the mentality of planes over my head and (having) an emergency backpack.
"I think it would be a big shock to go back to the UK and start life again."

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MPs call for ethics code to tackle fake news and harmful content on Facebook and Twitter

18 February

MPs are calling for a code of ethics to ensure social media platforms remove harmful content and fake news from their sites.

The code, which would also cover illegal content, would be overseen by an independent regulator with the power to launch legal action against companies who breach it.
The regulator could issue large fines against social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter under the move, which is being called for by the digital, culture, media and sport committee.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson has said the "era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately".
MPs have warned in a major report that democracy is at risk from the "malicious and relentless" targeting of citizens with disinformation.
The committee has also expressed concerns about "dark adverts" from unidentifiable sources, as they called for reform to electoral communications laws.
MPs have said ethics guidelines are needed to set out what is not acceptable on social media, including harmful and illegal content that has been referred to the platforms by users or identified by the companies.
The committee wrote: "Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a 'platform' and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites."
The report rounded on Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, who was accused of showing "contempt" towards the committee by choosing not to appear before it last year.
They said the social networking site did not seem willing to be regulated or scrutinised, and claimed its "opaque" structure seemed to be designed to "conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions".
Facebook has come under intense pressure over some of its business practices in the last year.
It follows the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a series of data breaches and concerns over fake news and other content on the site.
The committee's final report into disinformation and fake news also said electoral law was "not fit for purpose" and should be updated to reflect the move to "microtargeted" online political campaigning.
MPs called for a comprehensive review of the current rules and regulations surrounding political work during elections and referenda, and separately urged the government to put pressure on social media companies to publicise instances of disinformation.
Ministers were also asked to reveal how many investigations are being carried out into Russian interference in UK politics.
The government is expected to publish a white paper later this year on proposals to reform laws to make the internet and social media safer.
Tory MP and committee chairman Damian Collins said: "Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised 'dark adverts' from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day.
"Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.
"The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.
"Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers."
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said: "Labour agrees with the committee's ultimate conclusion: the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately.
"We need new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy."
"Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has."
A government spokesman said: "The government's forthcoming white paper on online harms will set out a new framework for ensuring disinformation is tackled effectively, while respecting freedom of expression and promoting innovation.
"This week the culture secretary will travel to the United States to meet with tech giants including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple to discuss many of these issues."
An electoral commission spokesman added: "We agree that reform of electoral law is urgently needed.
"The UK's government must ensure that the tools used to regulate political campaigning online continue to be fit for purpose in a digital age."
Karim Palant from Facebook UK's public policy department said: "We share the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.
"We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform. But we're not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for 7 years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.
"We also support effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users.
"While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago. We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse."

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Police apologise for late response after father's image of racist graffiti goes viral

18 February

A hate crime where "no blacks" was spray-painted on the front door of a family home is being investigated by police, who apologised for their delayed response.

Jackson Yamba said he reported the "abhorrent" crime more than a week ago after the graffiti appeared on his home in Salford.
The father-of-one's 10-year-old son David was left in tears after seeing the racist message.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is now investigating after Mr Yamba posted a photo of his vandalised front door on Twitter.
The image, which shows the racist language in dripped white paint, went viral after it was shared on Saturday evening.
Mr Yamba wrote in an accompanying post: "My front door in Salford was painted over a week ago with this abhorrent racist graffiti - after it reporting it to @gmpolice they still haven't been here to investigate.
"How do I assure my traumatised 10-year-old that he is safe in his home?"
Mr Yamba's son David told the Manchester Evening News: "My daddy was taking me to school when we first saw it.
"I was scared as this has never happened to me before.
"I was so surprised. I wanted to stay in the house in case they were waiting and I didn't want to go to school, but dad said it will be okay.
"I started to cry in case something happened. I don't want to stay in the house anymore."
The morning after Mr Yamba's tweet, Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said he had only just become aware of the "appalling crime" and apologised for the lack of response.
When Mr Yamba said he was told there were not enough staff when he contacted GMP on 8 February, Mr Hopkins replied: "That is frankly just not good enough.
"There may have been other issues at the time, but we should have followed up quickly.
"It's an appalling crime you and your family have suffered."
GMP later said it was aware of concerns about its response to the reports of racist graffiti at the flat.
The force added that it was sorry Mr Yamba had "received a service below what we would seek to provide" and that they had visited him on Sunday morning.
Since Mr Yamba tweeted the image, messages of support have flooded in to the father and son.
A GoFundMe page which was set up to help the pair replace their door exceeded its £1,000 target in less than six hours.
The pair were also invited to be special guests at a local rugby match and meet the Salford Red Devils players.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles, replied to Mr Yamba's post asking him to email her.
Mr Yamba tweeted in response: "I am really grateful for the amount of support across the country.
"There is no word to describe my gratefulness. My son and I want to thank you all."
:: Anyone with information should contact police on 101.

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