UK-born woman who joined ISIS loses appeal over citizenship removal

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A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join ISIS lost her latest appeal on Friday over the removal of her British citizenship.

The British government took away Shamima Begum’s citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

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Begum, now 24, argued the decision was unlawful, in part because British officials failed to properly consider whether she was a victim of trafficking, an argument that was rejected by a lower court in February 2023.

The Court of Appeal in London rejected her appeal on Friday following an appeal in October.

Judge Sue Carr said: “It could be argued that the decision in Ms Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of her own misfortune.”

“But it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view. Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful.”

“We have concluded it was not and the appeal is dismissed.”

The government welcomed the ruling.

“Our priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so,” a spokesperson for the interior ministry said.

Heated debate

Friday’s ruling is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle which has already reached the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court – and could do so again.

Begum’s case has been the subject of heated debate in Britain, between those who argue she willingly joined a terrorist group and others who say she was a child when she left, or should face justice for any alleged crimes in Britain.

She left London in 2015, aged 15, and traveled with two school friends to Syria, where she married an ISIS fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.

Begum has been in the al-Roj camp since 2019, with thousands of other foreign women and children.

Begum’s lawyer, Samantha Knights, had told the Court of Appeal that Britain had a legal duty to consider whether she was a potential victim of trafficking, or if there had been any failures by the state before removing her British citizenship.

She also argued that Begum’s entry into Syria was “facilitated by a Canadian agent” working for ISIS – an allegation which first emerged in 2015.

However, lawyers representing the British government said the decision to revoke someone’s citizenship must be “focused on the risks posed by the individual, irrespective of how they might have come to be a risk.”

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