The curious case of Begum and the Cambridge five spies

Shamima Begum, the British woman who joined ISIS as a 15 year old loses UK citizenship appeal

Shamima Begum, the British woman who joined ISIS as a 15 year old loses UK citizenship appeal

Shamima Begum, the British girl who left the United Kingdom to join ISIS at the age of 15, has lost her appeal against the decision by the UK government to revoke her British citizenship.

The ruling does not determine if Begum can return to Britain, but whether the removal of her citizenship was lawful.

Judge Robert Jay gave the decision on Wednesday, February 22, following a five-day hearing in November, during which her lawyers argued the UK Home Office had a duty to investigate whether she was a victim of trafficking before removing her citizenship.

Shamima Begum, the British woman who joined ISIS as a 15 year old loses UK citizenship appeal

Begum, now 23 and living in a camp in northern Syria, flew to the country in 2015 with two school friends to join the ISIS terror group. In February 2019, she re-emerged and made international headlines as an “ISIS bride” after pleading with the UK government to be allowed to return to her home country for the birth of her son.

Shamima Begum, the British woman who joined ISIS as a 15 year old loses UK citizenship appeal

Then UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid removed her British citizenship on February 19, 2019, and Begum’s newborn son died in a Syrian refugee camp the following month.

She told reporters she had two other children prior to that baby, who also died in Syria while they were babies

Begum has made several public appeals as she fought against the government’s decision, most recently appearing in BBC documentary The Shamima Begum Story and a 10-part BBC podcast series.

In the podcast series she insisted that she is “not a bad person.” While accepting that the British public viewed her as a “danger” and a “risk,” Begum blamed this on her media portrayal.

She challenged the UK government’s decision to revoke her citizenship but, in June 2019, the government refused her application to be allowed to enter the country to pursue her appeal.

In 2020, the UK Court of Appeal ruled Begum should be granted leave to enter the country because otherwise, it would not be “a fair and effective hearing.”

The following year, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, arguing that the Court of Appeal made four errors when it ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to carry out her appeal.

Begum’s lawyers criticized the court ruling as a “lost opportunity to put into reverse a profound mistake and a continuing injustice.”

“The outcome is that there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK if the home secretary invokes national security,” Gareth Pierce and Daniel Furner, of Birnberg Pierce Solicitors, said in a statement seen

“Begum remains in unlawful, arbitrary and indefinite detention without trial in a Syrian camp. Every possible avenue to challenge this decision will be urgently pursued,” it continued.

Rights group Amnesty International who has been pushing for the case described the ruling as a “very disappointing decision.”

“The power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn’t exist in the modern world, not least when we’re talking about a person who was seriously exploited as a child,” Steve Valdez-Symonds, the group’s UK refugee and migrant rights director, said in a statement.

“Along with thousands of others, including large numbers of women and children, this young British woman is now trapped in a dangerous refugee camp in a war-torn country and left largely at the mercy of gangs and armed groups.”

“The home secretary shouldn’t be in the business of exiling British citizens by stripping them of their citizenship,” Valdez-Symonds said.

Javid, the home secretary who removed Begum’s British citizenship, welcomed Wednesday’s ruling, tweeted that it “upheld my decision to remove an individual’s citizenship on national security grounds.”

“This is a complex case but home secretaries should have the power to prevent anyone entering our country who is assessed to pose a threat to it.” Javid added.

The Cambridge Spies

Guy Burgess, one of the 'Cambridge Spies'

Guy Burgess, one of the ‘Cambridge Spies’  ©Maclean, Burgess, Philby and Blunt were British members of a KGB spy ring that penetrated the intelligence system of the UK and passed vital information to the Soviets during World War Two and the early stages of the Cold War. 

The members of the ring were Donald Maclean (1913 – 1983), Guy Burgess (1911 – 1963), Harold ‘Kim’ Philby (1912 – 1988) and Anthony Blunt (1907 – 1983). Several other people have been suggested as belonging to the ring, including John Cairncross.

Blunt became a communist in the early 1930s and was recruited by the NKVD (later KGB), the Soviet security agency. While teaching at Cambridge University, Blunt was influential in recruiting the other three, who were all students there.

Burgess became a journalist after he left university, but on the outbreak of war joined MI6. Maclean was in the Foreign Office during the same period. In 1951, tipped off by Philby that they were under suspicion, Burgess and Maclean defected to the Soviet Union, where they spent the rest of their lives.

Philby was also a journalist but joined SIS (also known as MI6) in 1940. Just before the war ended, he was appointed head of SIS’s anti-Soviet section. Thus the man charged with running operations against the Soviets was a KGB agent. He later became chief British intelligence officer in the United States.

After Burgess and Maclean fled to the Soviet Union, Philby came under suspicion and was forced to resign. In 1963, he defected to the Soviet Union, and died there. Blunt worked for MI5 during the war. After the war he had a distinguished career as an art historian. He was director of the Courtauld Institute and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. He was knighted in 1956. In 1963, the British government discovered he was a spy but offered him immunity in return for information. In 1979, the story got out and Blunt was stripped of his knighthood.

None of these white men had their British citizenship stripped, though arguably they posed a more significant threat to the UK than Begum could have been.


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