A British mom spent 10 months in Islamic State-held territory. She said it wasn’t her ‘cup of tea.’
LONDON — Shukee Begum, a British wife and mother who spent 10 months inside Islamic State-held territory, has said living in the so-called caliphate was “not my cup of tea.”
In an interview broadcast Wednesday on Britain’s Channel 4 News, the 33-year-old mother of five said she went to Syria in August last year to find her husband, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Jamal al-Harith, to “speak some sense into him.”
Her Manchester-born husband left Britain about 18 months ago to join Islamic State militants, according to the British broadcaster.
“He’s my husband and all of a sudden he’s not there. It didn’t feel like home any more. I was trying to manage school runs and things like that. I was thinking about the children’s future. Is he part of it? Will he come back? All these things go through your mind,” she said.
This is a report featuring the interview Bilal Abdul Kareem did with Shukee Begum that aired on Channel 4.
It’s highly unusual for those who have left areas controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to speak out. A report published last month by researchers at King’s College London said many defectors remain silent because of fear of reprisals. The report also suggested that disseminating the accounts of those who have become disillusioned by the Islamic State could help to deter others from joining.
Begum insisted she was never a supporter of the Islamic State and warned other women that it’s not easy to leave.
“This is what I want to make clear to other women as well who might be thinking of coming into ISIS territory, that you can’t just come into ISIS territory and then expect that you can just leave again easily. There is no personal autonomy there at all,” she said.
When asked why she brought her children along, including her 4-week-old son, she said her husband was “a family man” and that taking the children to see their father “would have been more powerful than anything else I had to say to him at the time.”
When she made it to Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, she was sent to a cramped safe house with other foreign women and children before being reunited with her husband.
“You’ve got hundreds of families living in one hall and sharing perhaps one or two bathrooms between them, one or two kitchens between them. You’ve got children crying, children who were sick,” she said.
“There was a gangster kind of mentality among single women there. Violent talk, talking about war, killing. They would sit together and huddle around their laptops and watch ISIS videos together and discuss them and everything. And it just wasn’t my cup of tea,” Begum said.
But she couldn’t persuade her husband to leave. And when she wanted to go, she faced an uphill battle. Her husband wouldn’t help, and when she wrote to local courts asking permission to leave, they refused, saying that “women and children belong in ISIS territory,” she said.
She then turned to smugglers, ending up in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where she and her children were held in a basement prison for nearly three months.
Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American journalist who works with Channel 4 News, said on his Web site that he helped to negotiate her release. “She and her children are now in the process of recovering from their ordeal. They are now free, safe, and in the liberated areas of northern Syria,” he wrote.
Begum said she’s eager to return to the United Kingdom but fearful she could face prosecution if she does.
“I’d love to go back to the U.K. The U.K. is my home,” she said. “But I’m just not sure at the moment, with the track record of the current government, if the U.K. is somewhere I can come back to and achieve justice there. I hope I’m wrong.”
This article was written by Karla Adam from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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