LONDON (AP) — Lawyers for a British woman whose U.K. citizenship was removed after she travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group argued Monday that she should have been treated as a child trafficking victim.
Shamima Begum, now 23, was 15 when she and two other schoolgirls from London joined the extremist group in February 2015. Authorities revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds soon after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019.
Begum’s lawyers launched a fresh legal challenge against the British government’s decision, arguing that officials had a legal duty to investigate whether she was a victim of trafficking when her citizenship was revoked.
Lawyer Samantha Knights told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on Monday that Begum was influenced by a “determined and effective ISIS propaganda machine.”
Knights said in written submissions to the hearing that like many other young girls, Begum was recruited by the Islamic State group and transported to Syria “for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male.”
But James Eadie, representing the Home Office, argued the case was about national security and not about child trafficking.
He said Begum remained in Syria for four years and only left IS-controlled territory for safety reasons, not because of “a genuine disengagement from the group.”
Britain’s Supreme Court ruled last year that Begum could not return to the U.K. to fight her citizenship case. British media reports say she remains in a camp in northern Syria.
On Monday, an officer with Britain’s domestic security agency, MI5, told the hearing that it was “inconceivable” that Begum would not know about what the Islamic State was doing as a terrorist organization at the time.
The officer was only identified as Witness E and gave evidence from behind a screen.
The hearing is set to last five days and a ruling is expected at a later date.