Monday 22 April 2019

'I made a huge mistake,' says Isil fighter husband of UK teenage runaway

Regret: Yago Riedijk now says he rejects the beliefs of Isil but did not apologise for marrying Shamima Begun when she was just 15 years old
Regret: Yago Riedijk now says he rejects the beliefs of Isil but did not apologise for marrying Shamima Begun when she was just 15 years old

Danica Kirk

The Dutch man who married British teenager Shamima Begum after she ran away to join Isil now wants to return to the Netherlands with her and their newborn son.

Yago Riedijk (27) told the BBC from a Kurdish-run detention centre that he met Begum within days of her arrival in Syria when she was just 15. He said in an interview aired yesterday that the marriage was "her own choice".

Shamima Begum
Shamima Begum

When asked if marrying a 15-year-old was appropriate, he said: "To be honest, when my friend came and said there was a girl who was interested in marriage, I wasn't that interested because of her age, but I accepted the offer anyway."

Riedijk says that while he fought for Isil, he now rejects the group and tried to leave it.

"I made a huge mistake. I've thrown away years of my life."

Begum fled east London with two friends to travel to Syria to marry Isil fighters in 2015 at a time when the group's online recruitment programme lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Begum, now 19, resurfaced at a refugee camp in Syria and recently told reporters she wanted to go home. But her apparent lack of remorse has triggered criticism in Britain and the family has expressed its own shock at her lack of repentance.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has revoked her citizenship - even while saying he wouldn't make a decision that would render a person stateless. Her family has insisted she isn't a dual citizen. The case will be argued in the courts.

Although it's unclear if Begum has committed a crime, her comments - and those of her husband - throw into sharp relief larger questions about how Western societies will deal with others who joined Isil, but want to return to their home countries now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.

The government in the Netherlands has declined to comment on individual cases.

Meanwhile, Begum has been moved out of a Syrian refugee camp after having threats made against her, according to her family's lawyer.

The teenager and her two-week-old son had been living in al-Hol camp in north-east Syria. However, Tasnime Akunjee, her UK lawyer, said fears that other jihadists' wives in the camp might harm her had prompted her move.

"There was clearly something that warranted concern. We understand she and her child had been threatened by others," Mr Akunjee said.

"In terms of how effective this move might be in terms of her safety, well, we just don't know."

Sources in al-Hol said Begum left late last week, and a Swedish woman had been moved at the same time over similar concerns.

It was not clear where Begum was taken, although one possibility is the smaller Roj camp.

Begum came to al-Hol, home to around 51,000 people, after she fled from the final pocket of Isil territory.

She had been staying in a tarpaulin tent in a section for foreigners.

Irish Independent

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