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Court Considers Whether Woman Who Joined ISIS As A Teen Is Allowed To Return To U.K.

Britain's Supreme Court is considering whether a woman who left the country to join ISIS as a 15-year-old should be permitted to return to the country to argue that her U.K. citizenship should not have been revoked.

Shamima Begum, now 21, left London with two other schoolgirls in 2015 to join the terrorist group. She is now in a detention camp in northern Syria.

She was found in the camp by a journalist in February 2019, nine months pregnant, and said she wanted to come home. She says she married a Dutch ISIS fighter days after arriving in ISIS territory and that she had earlier given birth to two infants who had died of malnutrition and disease. The third baby later died of pneumonia in the camp.

Begum has not been allowed to return to the U.K., as then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship last year and said Begum had a right to Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother.

But Bangladesh's ministry of foreign affairs said last year that Begum, who was born in the U.K., would not be allowed in Bangladesh and has never applied for citizenship or visited the country.

As NPR has reported, the British Nationality Act of 1981 allows the government to strip Britons of their citizenship if it would be "conducive to the public good" and only if the person would not become stateless as a result.

"I wasn't born in Bangladesh, I've never seen Bangladesh and I don't even speak Bengali properly, so how can they claim I have Bangladeshi citizenship," Begum told the BBC.

Begum says that stripping her of British citizenship would render her stateless: "I have one citizenship ... and if you take that away from me, I don't have anything. I don't think they are allowed to do that."

She is not able to participate in hearings in her case from the detention camp, so her lawyers are seeking permission for her to return to the U.K. to mount her legal effort to remain British.

An appeals court ruled in July that "given that the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal, fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns."

But in the government's current appeal, lawyer James Eadie argued to the Supreme Court that Begum "is considered to pose a real and current threat to national security."

The hearing is expected to last two days with a decision coming later.

President Trump has urged European countries to accept Islamic State fighters and hold criminal proceedings in their home countries, as NPR reported. He asked that countries including Britain, France and Germany take in the more than 800 fighters of European origin who joined ISIS and were captured by the U.S. military.

Begum's case could have a wide-reaching impact on other, similar cases.

Two other British-born women, under the code names C3 and C4, also begin their appeals Monday. They had their British citizenship stripped by the current home secretary, Priti Patel.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said last year that "Despite the complexity of these challenges, rendering people stateless is never an acceptable option."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.