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She Left London At 15 To Marry An ISIS Fighter. Now She Wants To Go Home

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program with a focus on the battle against ISIS. President Trump is expected to declare victory soon with the capture of the last pocket of territory held by the group in Syria. We're going to hear more about that in a minute. But first, we want to focus on the question of what should happen to the thousands of people who left their home countries either to fight for or live in what they thought would be the caliphate. And we're going to hear about one person whose story made international headlines.

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left London four years ago with two other teenage girls to become ISIS brides. She married a young Dutch ISIS fighter. They had two children, who she says both died of malnutrition and disease due to the harsh conditions. Pregnant again, Shamima fled to a refugee camp in Syria two weeks ago, where she's just given birth to a baby boy. And she says she wants to return home to England. London Times correspondent Anthony Loyd met Shamima on a reporting trip to a refugee camp in Northeastern Syria.

ANTHONY LOYD: Outwardly, she seems relatively composed, calm. But I imagine she was also deeply traumatized, in huge shock. She'd lost two children recently. She just escaped from the battlefield. And she was living in a refugee camp, which is - an open prison would be too cute a way of describing it. But, I mean, she can't leave. She doesn't know what's going to become of her, so inside, there was a lot of confusion and a lot of shock.

MARTIN: The camp where Anthony Loyd found her is home to roughly 39,000 refugees. Among them are hundreds of wives, widows and children of ISIS fighters. He went searching for young British women.

LOYD: I knew that in this final ongoing battle, some of the mysteries related to European volunteers, wives and hostages might be revealed because this was the last bit of land that was being overrun by local allies of the coalition.

MARTIN: But Loyd said her journey home may not be easy.

LOYD: Britain has made it clear so far that it does not want its own volunteers who joined Islamic State as fighters - or, it seems, as wives - back into its own territory.

MARTIN: Shamima told Lloyd she was happy to meet a fellow Brit and to share her story. But she worried about her legal situation and what might happen to her child. Loyd interviewed her in the camp's noisy office and posted the audio on the London Times website.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAMIMA BEGUM: Now, I'm - like, I'm over 18, so they might - I might get charged with something. And what about the children? What will then happen to them? What do you think might happen to my child? They might take it away from me - or at least give it to my family.

MARTIN: Shamima told Loyd she's willing to do what's necessary to ensure her son's safety.

BEGUM: I'm more than happy to, like, you know, do what they want me to do, just so long as I can settle down with my child.

MARTIN: But after everything, Shamima told Loyd that she has no regrets.

LOYD: She was a confused young woman who was frightened. And I think, just to use that one sentence she said, which is a classic London teenager's sentence - I've got no regrets. Whether she was at the stage of regret yet, she was certainly in grief and shock.

MARTIN: That was Anthony Loyd of The Times of London, who found Shamima Begum in a refugee camp in Syria earlier this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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