Back from the dead. In an extraordinary development, the London Times reports that two of the three teenage schoolgirls who disappeared from Bethnal Green Academy in February 2015 to travel to Syria and join ISIS are alive.
One, Shamima Begum, is pregnant with the child of an ISIS extremist and now wishes to come back to Tower Hamlets to give birth.
Bethnal Green Academy in Gosset Street E2, just off Bethnal Green Road, is now known as the Mulberry Academy Shoreditch.
While Kadiza Sultana is reported to have been killed in an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, in May 2016 both Shamima Begum and Amira Abase are alive in addition to another schoolgirl who left the UK in 2014.
Wants to return home to Tower Hamlets
Ms Begum, now 19, is now heavily pregnant and says she now wishes to return to the UK to give birth to her child and ‘live quietly’. Her first two children, both fathered by her ISIS husband, died of malnutrition during the conflict in Syria.
According to The Times Ms Begum says “I don’t regret coming here” although she recently fled the collapsing ISIS caliphate as she could no longer endure her life there.
She is currently living in a refugee camp in Syria.
If Ms Begum does return to the UK she is likely to face terrorism charges.
In March 2015 a judge made another four female students at the school wards-of-court to prevent them from leaving Britain.
The jihadi brides’ school
In the wake of the three schoolgirls fleeing to Syria, local residents started to call Bethnal Green Academy ‘the jihadi brides’ school’.
In an attempt to distance itself from the ‘Jihadi Brides’ events Bethnal Green Academy changed its name to the Green Spring Academy Shoreditch and is now known as the Mulberry Academy Shoreditch after transferring to the Mulberry School Trust in September 2018.
“Lack of remorse deeply worrying” – Biggs
“We should remember that Shamima Begum was a child when she left London and was the clear victim of radicalisation. Her lack of remorse and her apparent continued support for IS, however, are deeply worrying and cannot be left unchallenged, ” said Mayor John Biggs in an official statement. “If she returns it is entirely right she is held to account for her actions.”
“If that happens we will rightly have a duty of care to support any children involved. Any wider decisions would be for the Home Office and police and we will see how things unfold.”
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson added: “If Miss Begum was to return to Tower Hamlets, we would work with the police and the Home Office following standard procedures to assess the needs of her and her child before any decisions were made.”
LW Comment and Analysis
In 2015 the news that three teenage schoolgirls had fled to Syria with the sole purpose of marrying ISIS fighters was yet another blow to the already tarnished public image of our borough.
Horrific stories of ISIS atrocities filled news channels. The scandal surrounding the administration of Lutfur Rahman was at its height. And for some the chance to link a borough which had been under the control of a Muslim mayor rumoured to be linked to extremist groups with the unprecedented story of the three absconding schoolgirls was too good to be true – however tenuous the connection.
ISIS is the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [Syria], an ultra-radical Islamist group that declared that any territory they held in the Middle East was a caliphate, an Islamic state. Citizens of the ISIS caliphate would live in a society that could at best be called medieval.
The express intent of ISIS was and still is, the elimination of Western society as we know it by any means necessary. In 2015 the UK was still coming to terms with what the rise of ISIS meant in terms of the terrorist threat within its borders and particularly those areas with a high proportion of Muslim residents.
The shock that east London schoolgirls could be radicalised to such an extent that they would willingly abandon their families to join ISIS was palpable.
An understandable suspicion was that the girls must have been directly influenced by other individuals or organised groups in Tower Hamlets who were also supporters of the aims and methods of ISIS.
If this was true how many other children in our midst were secretly making plans to join an extremist terrorist group as they walked to school? How many other children could be plotting to carry out the work of ISIS in the borough? And if there was this level of support for ISIS among children how many adults were ISIS followers?
As with any operations by the secret intelligence services the extent and conclusions of the subsequent investigations by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, MI5 and MI6 are unknown.
The vast majority of Tower Hamlets residents will be amazed at the sheer front of a young woman who now wants to return to the UK to give birth under the care of the NHS despite being unapologetic for her actions and seeming continued support for terrorists whose very reason for existence is to destroy our society.
For the security services, the possibility of Shamima Begum returning to the UK is a golden opportunity. Recently the generally accepted view was that all three ‘jihadi brides’ had been killed during the Syrian conflict and had taken the real story of how and why they became radicalised to their graves.
The primary goal of the police and security services will be to identify those who may have encouraged, aided and abetted the jihadi brides in their quest to join ISIS.
The accepted narrative that children can be radicalised to act solely through social media channels is a nice story but unlikely to be true.
What makes much more common sense is that somewhere in our borough those who helped turn three naive schoolgirls into the brides of extremist jihadi thugs are alive and well.
It is also sensible to assume that for every schoolgirl who was successfully radicalised and sent to their fate there were others whose plans fell by the wayside.
Indeed it would be folly not to make this assumption. It is in the interests of some to hope that borough residents will actually believe that the story of the jihadi brides was just a one-off. Nothing to see here – move along, please!
Moley first visited Bethnal Green Academy in August 2015 when covering the evacuation of residents after an unexploded World War Two bomb was found nearby. Nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever (although some Blitz survivors might disagree).
Both he and his colleague were amazed how Tower Hamlets council were still trying to pretend as is if Bethnal Green Academy didn’t really exist.
The council’s media officer refused to tell us where residents had been evacuated to or even why he would not tell us. Local residents were more helpful and we wandered off to get some photos.
Trouble is when we arrived at Bethnal Green Academy we were refused entry despite numerous requests and phone calls.
Odd, huh? Or maybe it was a secret that hundreds of people had been turfed out of their homes? Simple fact was that Tower Hamlets council was paranoid of any mention whatsoever of Bethnal Green Academy.
Reality is that it takes much more than changing the name of a school to erase past events.
The passage of time and opacity of many public records makes it extremely difficult for individuals to work out which individuals and groups were actively engaging with pupils of the Bethnal Green Academy in 2015.
Moley and colleagues know ‘cos we have tried – and failed.
The security services will have an easier time of things (because that’s what they get paid for.)
Our continuing interest in what really went on in 2015 is fuelled by the fact that there still seems to be those amongst us, some in public life, who have expressed sympathy towards those who preach extremist views.
And we cannot help but wonder what some of these people were doing in 2015.
Today’s news that two of the three Bethnal Green Academy schoolgirls are still alive might reveal far more than just the fates of three individuals.
Related Internet Links
- Isis brides: Parents had no idea of Bethnal Green girls’ plan to wage jihad – The Times
- British IS schoolgirl ‘wants to return home’ – BBC News
- Shamima Begum: London schoolgirl who ran away to join Isis ‘does not regret’ decision but wants to return home – Independent
- British schoolgirl who joined Isil found in Syria and ‘wants to come home’– Daily Telegraph
- London schoolgirl who fled to join Isis wants to return to UK – Guardian
- Mulberry Academy Shoreditch (formerly Bethnal Green Academy)
- Mulberry Academy Shoreditch – Wikipedia