Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID

International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) invites to a Panel Discussion with the topic “Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID” featuring Tasnime Akunjee, Attorney for Shamima Begum’s family, Anthony Loyd, Senior Journalist & War Correspondent, The Times and Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE at 11:00 AM EST, May 27th, 2020. Join via Zoom Meetings.

By Jan H. Kalvik
Defence and Intelligence Norway

– Have you ever wondered what happened to Shamima Begum and the Bethnal Green school girls who left their homes in the UK, traveling through Turkey to join ISIS? Shamima Begum was 15 when she left home and was 19 when she was found in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) run Camp Hol by UK journalist Anthony Loyd of the The Times.

Anne Spechard: – Please join us for our first discussion on these issues to be followed by many more. The panel will each speak briefly and questions will be most welcome with a lively discussion to ensue!

Anne Spechard: – Please join us for our first discussion on these issues to be followed by many more. The panel will each speak briefly and questions will be most welcome with a lively discussion to ensue!

– While many at first felt sympathy for girls like Shamima, and minors and girls from the West in particular, who were tricked by ISIS to believe they were joining an Islamic utopia, public opinion quickly shifted in her case. After admitting to Anthony that seeing severed heads in trash cans was not shocking to her — as she had likely acclimated to the brutal conflict zone in which she lived — and that if ISIS didn’t punish such people, who knows what they would do to young women like herself—probably referring to the many rapes for which Syrian regime soldiers were known —m any in the UK turned against her.

Shamima’s citizenship has been stripped despite international law which makes it illegal to render a person stateless, with UK officials claiming she can take the citizenship of her father, who was born in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, meanwhile, points out that Shamima has never been to their country and they will not issue her citizenship. Her baby, who was born soon after arriving in the camp, was not repatriated to the UK. He died within weeks due to the harsh conditions and likely malnutrition Shamima suffered while living under ISIS.

Shamima, like thousands of other Westerners, lives now in a legal limbo in an SDF detention camp while COVID-19 is looming on the horizon and one camp is already showing signs of mass illness spreading across the inmates.

– Join us, Tuesday May 27th at 11 am for the beginning of a discussion of the issues surrounding these ISIS men, women and children held by the SDF.


Tasnime Akunjee, Attorney for Shamima Begum’s family has traveled to SDF territory only to be briefly detained and told he could not see his client. He has been fighting the case of Shamima’s repatriation to the UK and will discuss the moral and legal issues regarding a minor joining a terrorist group, issues of detaining an individual without charges, stripping citizenship, and the cruelties involved in not bringing her infant back to the UK for life-saving medical care.

Anthony Loyd, Senior Journalist and War Correspondent for The Timesbegan reporting for The Times during the Bosnian war in 1993 and has since then reported from a series of major conflict zones, including those in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. His work for The Times has been recognized with ten major press awards, including an Amnesty International award for his work in Syria in 2012 and the 2014 Bayeux Calvados award. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books, My War Gone By, I Miss It So and Another Bloody Love Letter. After discovering Shamima Begum in SDF Camp Hol, Anthony wrote about her in The Times sparking a huge controversy in the UK. He has since written an article about “the brutish incoherence of the UK’s response to her situation as much as the wretchedness of her individual case,” and reflecting on his own part in what happened.

Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of ICSVE has in-depth interviewed 239 ISIS prisoners, returnees and defectors and visited the detention camps in SDF territory, viewed the abysmal conditions under which children of ISIS mothers live, and collected reports of the ISIS enforcers whose brutality continues inside these camps. She has met Shamima twice in the camps and spoken with her briefly. Likewise, she has interviewed Jack Letts from the UK whose citizenship was also stripped despite his leaving for ISIS at age 19 after clearly spending his adolescence with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Similarly Dr. Speckhard interviewed Irish Lisa Smith who escaped from Camp Ein Issa after the Turkish invasion in Fall 2019 and is now home with her child in Ireland. Dr. Speckhard will moderate the panel in a discussion addressing questions such as: Why did these and many other individuals join ISIS and what did they hope to achieve? How radicalized and dangerous do the women and children appear now? Do we have any indication of how radicalized and dangerous the men are? Under what mechanisms is the SDF holding them and for how long can they be held? Will an international tribunal be held in SDF territory or just local courts, and will Westerners by tried in Syria or in their home countries? What is the U.S. and EU countries positions on these issues and why don’t their countries take them back? If some were taken home, can they be prosecuted, or for those already prosecuted in absentia can they successfully evade imprisonment? What is a good model for considering repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration? Once home and in prison, can a terrorist ever be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society? How is COVID-19 complicating all of these issues?

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