Shamima Begum’s fact vs fiction—Four claims from documentary debunked

Shamima Begum describes how she left London for Syria

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Shamima Begum, who rose to prominence in 2019 after she was discovered alive in a refugee camp in northern Syria, is the subject of a new documentary by the BBC regarding her unusual life. The Shamima Begum Story, which follows a similar 10-part podcast series, documents her life as one of three schoolmates who fled London’s Benthal Green Academy in 2015 to join the notorious Islamic State terror group. Here examines four claims the now 23-year-old made in the 90-minute documentary, and how they vary from what she has said previously.

Claim one: Begum never saw ISIS propaganda before joining the terror group

Begum, who married a fellow ISIS member 10 days into her arrival in Syria, told the documentary that she “did not know” what ISIS actually did prior to going out and joining the group eight years ago.

She claimed that she was joining an Islamic “utopia”, and said that before joining the group no video footage, including the barbaric beheading of hostages, was watched by herself.

The Londoner said: “I didn’t know about these atrocities because as a 15-year-old I didn’t watch the news. I got my news on social media where people were saying this is untrue, it’s an exaggeration.”

This claim, however, was questioned by broadcaster Josh Baker, who noted that the videos were in fact all over social media at the time, with Begum replying: “But they were constantly being taken down and like being deleted so it was very hard to watch these videos. And the people who I was talking to who were in ISIS didn’t send these videos either.”

Those remarks though were different from her reflections on the beheading videos back in 2019, when she was interviewed by Quentin Sommerville, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent.

He asked her: “One of the reasons you joined IS is because you watched some beheading videos, is that right?”

In response, Begum, who lost three of the children she had given birth to while living in the Islamic State, said: “Not just the beheading videos, the videos that show families and stuff in the park. The good life that they can provide for you. Not just the fighting videos, but yeah the fighting videos as well I guess.”

This piece of footage was played back to Begum, who denied being “aware of the fighting and brutality of ISIS before you left”. Her denial was brutally summed up by Tim Loughton, a Tory MP working on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who said on the broadcast: “I don’t believe her and no reasonable person would.

“However much you’re a teenager watching the Kardashians at home and doing a load of stuff on social media nobody — particularly three intelligent students from East London — could have been absolutely oblivious to the horrors being waged by Daesh in Syria at that time.”

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Claim two: Begum never received ISIS training

Begum denied claims she was actually among those helping recruits and partook in training. Speculation about Begum’s role in the terror group has varied, including how she was responsible for its recruitment.

When Mr Baker presses Begum again, asking “at any time during your life in ISIS were you given any form of either religious training or weapons training?”, she says “no”.

Yet, this is countered by Um Khaled, who operated as a member of the Hisbah, known as the religious police for ISIS. He recalled actually seeing Begum in one of the camps, who, according to the Daily Mail, said: “They were only girls of course so didn’t have their Niqab on. So that’s when I saw her face.

“All the girls who join ISIS for the first time are enlisted in this camp. Sometimes there would be religious studies and sometimes they introduced weapons training.”

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Claim three: Begum didn’t know who she was staying with from ISIS

Begum told the documentary that she was unaware of who she would be staying with when joining ISIS. When her husband was imprisoned, she recalled staying with the family of a “really nice” Egyptian man in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Mr Baker asked Begum if she recognised the name Abu Qomra an astonishing six times, leaving the ex-ISIS member to offer a range of responses, including that she didn’t know the name.

But a neighbour of Begum’s, who supplied Qomra, a known ISIS armourer, while living in Raqqa poured water over this claim. They described him as a “vicious person” who “spoke in an aggressive manner”. They continued: “He was bad — bad in the full sense of the word. If she was living with him she would have known all the details of his life. It’s impossible she didn’t know.”

Begum, according to Huda Mukbil, a Canadian intelligence officer, may have denied knowing Qomra to “avoid guilt by association”. The insider added: “There’s fear, there’s trauma. This association in itself could mean that people could see her as a threat,’ she says. There are also consequences in terms of what she’s able to freely say knowing that any information can also incriminate her.”

Claim four: Begum’s life in Raqqa was ‘normal’

While living in Raqqa, known as ISIS’ “capital city”, Begum claimed her life was “kind of like how I imagined… everything was functioning and stuff… it was normal life”.

During her stay there, she also claimed to never have witnessed a public execution as her husband, Yago Riedijk, would not allow her to go outside.

Again, this appeared different from her own version of events. with her previously detailing bombing and seeing a decapitated head in a bin.

In a 2019 interview with The Times, she said: “Mostly it was a normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff. But when I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all.

“It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.”

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