UK official criticized after baby of IS teen dies in Syria
LONDON (AP) — British Home Secretary Sajid Javid faced criticism Saturday after the death of a U.K. teenager’s baby in a Syrian camp.
Shamima Begum, who had left London as a 15-year-old in 2015 to join the Islamic State group, had pleaded with British authorities before her baby was born to let her return to Britain to raise the child.
But Javid revoked her passport, saying Begum hadn’t shown any remorse. The teen had told newspaper reporters she didn’t have a problem with IS actions, including the beheading of captives.
Begum’s infant son died Friday. Begum’s family said the boy appeared to be in good health when he was born on Feb. 17. No clear cause of death has yet been given, but reports suggested he was having respiratory problems.
Fellow Conservative Party lawmaker Phillip Lee said Saturday he was “deeply concerned” by Javid’s handling of the case, suggesting he had taken a hard line in order to please populists.
He said it was clear 19-year-old Begum “holds abhorrent views,” but called her a child who was a product of British society. Britain had a moral duty to her and to her baby, he said.
When Begum first started speaking to reporters more than three weeks ago, she said the first two children she had given birth to since joining the extremist group had died of malnutrition and other ailments. She said she wanted to come home so she didn’t lose another child.
Her predicament sparked a national debate on how the U.K. should handle Britons who had joined the extremists and now seek to return because IS has lost its territory in Syria and Iraq.
The challenge faces other European countries as the final IS stronghold in Syria is on the brink of falling, giving its fighters and their often youthful spouses no place left to hide.
U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter last month, saying European countries have a responsibility to take back and put on trial about 800 IS fighters who have been captured by U.S.-backed forces in Syria.
Begum is married to a Dutch national who joined IS extremists and has since been taken into custody. He said last week that he wanted to be able to live in the Netherlands with his wife and newborn son, who is now dead.
Kirsty McNeill, a director at Save the Children UK, said Britain should “take responsibility for their citizens” in Syria to prevent further unnecessary losses.
“It is possible the death of this baby boy and others could have been avoided,” she said.
Javid didn’t comment directly on the baby’s death. A government spokesman said “the death of any child is tragic” and reiterated the British government’s advice that citizens avoid travel to Syria.