Shamima Begum, now 20, was one of three schoolgirls who left London to join the Islamic State group in Syria in 2015. Her citizenship was revoked by the Home Office after she was found in a refugee camp in 2019. Today, the Court of Appeal said Begum had been denied a fair hearing because she could not make her case from the Syrian camp. This means that Begum will be allowed to return to the UK to fight for her citizenship. Responding to this news, the Home Office said the decision was “very disappointing” and that it would “apply for permission to appeal.”
Born in the UK to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, Begum was 15 when she left the country in February 2015 and travelled via Turkey to Islamic State headquarters in Raqqa. Once there, she married a Dutch recruit.
Now 20, Begum lived under IS rule for more than three years. In February 2019, she was found nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp. Her baby later died of pneumonia and Begum revealed she had previously lost two other children.
One of the other girls who travelled with Begum, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in a bombing raid, while the fate of the third girl, Amira Abase, remains unknown.
After she was found, the then home secretary Sajid Javid cancelled Begum’s British citizenship on security grounds. This decision can be appealed in court, which Begum did. Today, the Court of Appeal ruled that she should be allowed to return to the UK to make her case.
In the UK, someone can have their citizenship taken away by the home secretary, for the following reasons: “for the public good” and would not make them stateless, the person obtained citizenship through fraud, their actions could harm UK interests and they can claim citizenship elsewhere. Begum was stripped of her citizenship for the public good reason.
In February, a tribunal ruled that removing Begum’s citizenship was lawful because she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent.”
Begum’s solicitor Daniel Furner explained she had never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story. “She is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it. But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice, it is the opposite,” said Furner.
Begum’s father Ahmed Ali told the BBC he was “delighted” by the ruling, and hoped his daughter would get justice. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said that the decisions the government had made about Begum had not been “taken lightly.”
While Begum is not yet on a flight to bring her home, she will be allowed back to make her case. This means that the government has a few weeks to convince the Supreme Court to review the case before it needs to urgently send a plane to pick her up—this could be a complicated process.
This case is bound to drag on, especially now that the Court of Appeal also ruled that the ongoing risk to Begum’s life has not yet been properly considered. Previously, Begum’s legal team had challenged the move by stating that it was unlawful because it left her stateless, it exposed her to a risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment, and she could not effectively challenge the decision while she was barred from returning to the UK.
For now, Begum will have to wait before returning to the UK.
It’s been clear for several years now that terrorist groups such as ISIS have mastered the realm of technology, and have utilised various online platforms and social media hubs to boost their sinister cause and recruit members. While mega-mammoth social media giants, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, are effectively cracking down on terrorist activity on their networks, less popular chat apps are having a harder time immunising their platforms against terrorists.
In a Wired op ed, executive Director and founder of SITE Intelligence Group Rita Katz expounds on ISIS’ most recent attempt to establish an online presence in order to spike up recruitment and facilitate communication following its significant territory losses in Syria and Iraq last year. According to Katz, the terrorist group has resorted to using encrypted messenger apps primarily intended for businesses and gamers after numerous failed attempts to launch web pages on sites like Tumblr and WordPress. The fairly new apps, Katz argues, have proved to be an efficient alternative for terrorist groups, particularly due to the platforms’ social media-like modeling and rudimentary security systems.
While Telegram appears to constitute ISIS’ primary media hub, other similar apps seem to be penetrated and utilised by the group. RocketChat, an open-source messenger service, has become an increasingly popular arena for ISIS-linked media groups to both coordinate terror attacks and further disseminate information originally posted on Telegram. Katz claims that as of January 2019, there were 700 registered users on RocketChat’s server that were linked to ISIS’ channels.
Furthermore, in the past two months alone, ISIS has made successful attempts to expand its virtual media networks into messenger apps such as Yahoo Together (a recent replacement of Yahoo Messenger), Viber, and Discord (a messaging app for gamers). Content found on such apps revealed, among other things, conversations between ISIS members who were planning attacks around Christmas in major Western cities.
In her article, Katz contends that ISIS is currently “testing the water” on such apps—seeing how long they manage to maintain their activities there before they’re flagged or blocked. She further mentions that terrorist groups are taking advantage of the relatively boundless discussion environments such apps foster, and the great difficulty they face in sifting through and identifying adverse content. The messenger apps’ response, Katz argues, will be crucial in determining “where terrorist groups migrate next.”
Spotting and removing terrorist activity on such platforms may prove ever more challenging for messenger apps such as Telegram and RocketChat; while some ISIS linked channels do little to hide their identity, flaunting usernames such as ‘Just Terror”, others camouflage better. Furthermore, it will undoubtedly be trickier to spot groups of ‘sympathisers’ of terrorists (be it Islamic extremists or white nationalist), whose conversations may or may not escalate to discourse bearing potentially dangerous ramifications.
The greatest challenge regarding terrorist groups’ online presence is that their activity will not be extinguished by censorship, but simply migrate elsewhere. The internet (at this moment in time at least), constitutes a free space with virtually limitless opportunities to spread information. Thus, once one platform or channel is blocked, numerous others sprout to replace them. It is true of terrorists and hate groups just as it is of our beloved streaming websites, porn hubs, or anything, for that matter.
The only solution that comes to mind is a global, federation-like body that will be tasked with maintaining order online and removing content deemed perilous.
No doubt Putin is working hard to make this far-fetched dream a reality for us all.