One of three schoolgirls who left east London in 2015 to join the Islamic State group says she has no regrets, but wants to return to the UK.
In an interview with the Times, Shamima Begum, now 19, talked about seeing “beheaded heads” in bins – but said that it “did not faze her”.
Speaking from a camp in Syria, she said she was nine months pregnant and wanted to come home for the sake of her baby.
She said she’d had two other babies who had both died.
She also described how one of her two school friends that had left the UK with her had died in a bombing. The fate of the third girl is unclear.
‘It was like a normal life’
Bethnal Green Academy pupils Ms Begum and Amira Abase, were both 15, while Kadiza Sultana was 16, when they left the UK in February 2015.
They flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day. They later entered Syria.
Ms Begum said she had escaped from Baghuz – the group’s last territory in eastern Syria – and is now one of 39,000 people in a camp in northern Syria.
Asked by Times journalist Anthony Loyd whether her experiences of living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Ms Begum said: “Yes it did. It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos – it’s a normal life.
“Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that…”
She added: “I don’t regret it.”
‘I always thought we’d die together’
But Ms Begum said the “oppression” had come as a “shock” and said she felt the IS “caliphate” was at an end.
“I don’t have high hopes. They are just getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “And there is so much oppression and corruption going on that I don’t really think they deserve victory.”
She appeared to confirm reports she had married while in Syria, and referred to her husband having been held in a prison where men were tortured.
A lawyer for the family of Kadiza Sultana said in 2016 that she was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike.
Ms Begum told the Times her friend had died in a bombing on a house where there was “some secret stuff going on” underground.
She added: “I never thought it would happen. At first I was in denial. Because I always thought if we got killed, we’d get killed together.”
‘Scared this baby is going to get sick’
Ms Begum said losing two children “came as a shock. It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard”.
As a result she was “really overprotective” of her unborn child.
“I’m scared that this baby is going to get sick in this camp,” she said. “That’s why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of – health-wise, at least.”
She said she should be giving birth “any day now”.
“When I first came here [to the camp] the coach ride was really horrible and was really hot and stuff so I thought my contractions had started and I was bleeding so they took me to the hospital. I was in the hospital for five days, then they brought me back.”
IS has lost control of most of the territory it overran, including its strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.