Thirty-three-year-old British national, Shukee Begum, has recently returned home to the United Kingdom after spending ten months as a hostage in Syria. Why did she leave the United Kingdom? The Telegraph reports she left to join her husband in his Jihad as a fanatic fighting beneath the black banners of ISIS.
Begum says this is false.
“ISIS is not my cup of tea,” she tells the Mirror. She left with her five children in hopes of bringing her husband back home to the United Kingdom.
“All I kept thinking was, I don’t want the kids to never see their father again. And I don’t want the baby to have never met his dad,” Begum tells the Independent. “I intended to see him, then go back. But [when we arrive] he says he didn’t want us to leave. So therefore, he will not help us go back.”
Her husband, Jamal Al-Harith, left the United Kingdom 18 months ago, reports the United Kingdom edition of the International Business Times. His choice to join ISIS is the end of a long and difficult story that starts in 2001 when he left the United Kingdom to visit Pakistan. It was supposed to be a short religious retreat, and a visit to study Muslim culture.
He wouldn’t see his wife or children again, nor set foot in the United Kingdom for three years.
Born Ronald Fiddler, Al-Harith converted to Islam in his early 20s, and by September 11, 2001, he’d been an observant Muslim for some fifteen years. To earn a living, he worked as a web designer in his native Manchester. Around October 2001, he left the United Kingdom to visit Pakistan on a religious retreat. There, Jamal was ambushed and held at gunpoint by Taliban fighters.
He was abducted, imprisoned, and thrown in a dark hole for months. He was questioned by Taliban authorities, who suspected him of being a British spy.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan, Al-Harith was discovered by a journalist from the United Kingdom, who informed diplomats in Kabul of the conditions he was living in. Jamal was rescued by Allied forces.
He was transferred to Kandahar where he was interrogated by US forces. They determined he was a threat to national security as an enemy combatant. He spent the next two years in Guantanamo Bay.
Jamal did his best to keep his spirits up while thinking about his family at home in the United Kingdom and talking with other prisoners about what they missed most.
“When I did meet other Brits, we would reminisce about home – particularly the food. We were all obsessed with Scottish Highland Shortbread – we wanted some so much.”
Jamal was allegedly beaten bloody by US guards at Guantanamo after he refused an injection. “Bruises heal after a week. But the other stuff stays with you” Jamal told the Mirror.
In 2004, the political climate had shifted in Jamal’s native United Kingdom, and Home Secretary David Blunkett finally secured his release after a long campaign.
Jamal Al-Harith was finally allowed to return home to the United Kingdom to see his wife and children after three years in captivity. He struggled when he got back, and it was difficult to find work after being labeled a terrorist by both the press and the British government.
“Once you’ve been labeled a terrorist, people always say there’s something [going on] there, and that’s stopped him from getting a job,” Maxine Fiddler, Al-Harith’s sister, told the Associated Press back in 2007.
Those difficulties continued for years until finally, 18 months ago, Jamal Al-Harith left the United Kingdom once more. This time, he traveled to Syria, to become the thing he was accused of being back in 2001. Jamal began his new career as an Islamist terrorist in the homicidal army of ISIS.
His wife, Shukee Begum, gave chase, leaving the United Kingdom with their five children in tow, intent on bringing her husband back. As soon as she arrived in Syria, her bags were stolen. She lost her phone, her passport, and everything else she brought with her.
After being reunited with her husband by ISIS fighters, she lived for a time in occupied Syria. Unable to convince her husband to return to the United Kingdom with her, she decided to take her children and return home. Jamal opposed their return, and for a time, Begum was not allowed to leave. Eventually, he relented, but refused to help secure passage back to the United Kingdom. Without passports or identifying documents, Begum had few options.
She convinced a local smuggling gang to shepherd her and her children out of ISIS territory. But when she was unable to pay, they sold her and her children as hostages to a rebel group. They were traded as hostages for ten months until she fell into the hands of another Islamist terror group called al-Nusra.
After spending a few weeks in among refugees in Turkey, during which she contacted the British embassy, Begum and her five children were allowed to return to the United Kingdom.
“Everything here takes ages,” she said of her time in Syria, “Except killing. That’s done very quickly.”
[Photos via Getty Images]