She said she was terrified her son would die in camp

Published by The Mail on Sunday (10th March, 2019)

Shamima Begum told me she was ‘terrified’ her baby son Jarrah would die when we met inside a Syrian refugee camp shortly after his birth three weeks ago.

Begum’s two previous children also died. She said she had been traumatised to see one of them suffer from starvation before passing away and this drove her desire to return to Britain.

Jarrah’s death was confirmed on Friday. He had been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties the previous day. The cause of death was pneumonia, according to a medical certificate.

When I interviewed Begum at al-Hol camp two days after his birth, she spoke of her fear that he might fall sick. ‘I’m terrified he could die,’ she said.

Dozens of children have died, often of pneumonia, while being ferried in bitterly cold and wet weather on flatback trucks out of Baghouz, the last pocket of the Islamic State’s crumbling ‘caliphate’. Many more have passed away inside the sprawling camp, which is struggling to handle the unexpectedly high numbers arriving. Al-Hol has doubled in size to 62,000 people in less than a month.

As a consequence, Begum and Jarrah were moved a week ago with some other female foreign recruits to Roj, a smaller camp near the Iraqi border.

The British teenager married Yago Riedijk, a Dutch fighter, ten days after arriving in IS’s self-declared caliphate. Riedijk is in a nearby prison and has been told of Jarrah’s death.

Another British woman at Roj told me last week many captives had paid for TVs in their tents and could watch the BBC.

‘Some of the sisters have plasma screens since they say they will be here for a long time,’ she said. She added that British intelligence officers had visited Roj to question some captives – yet Ministers claim they cannot risk officials’ lives going into ‘a failed state’ to help return those being held.

Begum’s defence of the 2017 Manchester terror attack, in which 22 people died at an Ariana Grande concert, led to her citizenship being revoked.

But camp officials, Kurdish politicians and Western security sources all told me this was the wrong decision.

One senior US security official said it was foolish to leave about 1,000 Western jihadi recruits in such a fragile region, with fears of fresh conflict breaking out, instead of taking them home and locking them up in prison or putting them under surveillance.

‘It is better to keep these dogs of war on the leash than leave them somewhere they could be running wild off the leash in a few months’ time,’ the source said.

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