In a fitting Halloween story, Donald Trump chose October 31 to call in to the LBC radio show of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. During the interview, which took place in the wake of the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Trump and Farage discussed the fate of British ISIS members, many of whom are currently being held by US forces in the Middle East.
Speaking in his usual style, the President had this to say:
“We offered to give the ones from UK back to UK and they don’t want them. We offered France, we offered Germany…this is what I mean—we captured them, we’ve got them, we have two of the Beatles [here Trump was referring to the so called “fab four” of British Jihadis led by Mohammed Emwazi, or Jihadi John]…but you didn’t want to take them back. As usual the United States gets stuck with it.”
Trump went on to reiterate: “We would [send British ISIS fighters back to the UK] but nobody wants them; they’ll say ‘let the United States take care of it,’ which isn’t fair….They were so happy when we captured them. I said ‘good, now you can take them back and try them’…but they didn’t wanna hear it.”
While the sentence structure of these remarks is characteristically incoherent, the message is clear—ISIS members from European countries are the responsibility of those countries. This sentiment ought to be rather uncontroversial. In taking this stance, Trump has found many unlikely bedfellows.
One such person is Tasnime Akunjee, who responded to Trump’s remarks on a different LBC show:
“To quote Donald Trump about Donald Trump, he’s ‘like a very smart person,’ so in this case I would say that even a broken clock is right twice a day,” said Akunjee.
“Why should the Americans have to resource the capture of these people and then the maintenance and trials of these people? They are the citizens of other places and those places ought to be burdening themselves with the actions of their citizens.”
“On this occasion, he is right. At the end of the day, why should the Americans have to resource the capture of these people and then the maintenance and trials of these people? They are the citizens of other places and those places ought to be burdening themselves with the actions of their citizens.”
British Jihadis are a problem the UK government simply does not seem to want to deal with. Jihadi John, the most notorious of the so-called “Jihadi Beatles,” was killed in a targeted killing by the British government, despite being a British citizen, in violation of both the Geneva Conventions and UK law.
Earlier this year, the UK government unilaterally revoked the citizenship of British Jihadi bride Shamima Begum, rendering her stateless, in violation of domestic and international law. Begum is now stranded in Al-Roj refugee camp in Northern Syria.
In scores of other cases, the executive has refused to repatriate British Jihadis and try them under the rule of law. While many European countries have seen their citizens leave to join ISIS and similar groups, Akunjee told Inside Arabia that, as far as he is aware, no other democratic country has even attempted to deal with the problem this fashion. To many observers, it appears there are no depths to which the UK government will not sink in order to avoid its democratic responsibilities on this issue.
The latest excuse the UK government has given is that UK anti-terror legislation is not strong enough for the government to be confident of a conviction.
The latest (and perhaps the feeblest) excuse the UK government has given for failing to allow the likes of Shamima Begum back into Britain to stand trial is that UK anti-terror legislation is not strong enough for the government to be confident of a conviction.
Tasnime Akunjee also put the lie to this: “This is a red herring,” he told LBC. “We have got some of the most flexible terrorism laws on the planet; some of the most wide-ranging ones are so wide-ranging that some of them have been struck down as being employed in a prejudicial way over a long period of time. So, the idea that someone who joins a prescribed organization like ISIS could not be prosecuted just by the mere fact of them joining it is a complete red herring. It is already a criminal offence, a very serious one, and well within the purview of the UK courts.”
In the eyes of Akunjee and many other legal minds, the responsibility of the UK to do as Trump and others have asked could hardly be more straightforward. To them, if the governments of the UK and other Western European democracies need to be reminded of the importance of the rule of law by an unlikely source then so be it.
“I would say the position of the president of the United States on this one issue is a very basic and a very moral one,” said Akunjee. “I think it would be very difficult for anyone to disagree with it.”
Other European states, some of far more modest means than Britain, have lived up to their responsibilities far better than the UK.
Other European states, some of far more modest means than Britain, have lived up to their responsibilities far better than the UK. Kosovo has taken some 110 ISIS members back into its territory, including fighters, women, and children. But major western countries have not met this issue by upholding the rule of law. Both France and Germany have openly admitted some ISIS members back into their territories, but many argue these countries could have done a lot more.
Sweden and Ireland have made only mild commitments to try ISIS members under domestic legislation, and Britain sees fit to act as it has done in the Shamima Begum case. Akunjee told Inside Arabia that there is no serious security risk to admitting individuals such as Shamima Begum back into the UK to stand trial: “If we are that concerned about Shamima Begum, a young girl who has three kids who have died,” he said, “well, there are far more dangerous individuals who have actually come back to the UK with our knowledge.”
Perhaps the most shameful aspect of the UK’s handling of this issue is its treatment of British citizens who are minors. All three of Shamima Begum’s children, who were fathered by her husband Yago Reidijk (a Dutch Jihadist), have died in Syria in the past four years. All were British citizens.
Begum herself was a mere child of 15 when she left for Syria, having stolen family jewelry to pay for her flights. At the time, both the head of UK policing and the chief of the London Metropolitan Police said that Begum and her classmates from Bethnal Green Academy (the so-called Bethnal Green Trio) should have been treated as victims because of their age. The two other girls in the “trio,” Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, have also died in Syria. Both were British minors.
To date no formal accusation regarding Begum’s direct involvement in any terrorist activity, as an adult or otherwise, has been made.
These reasons might be the source of the UK government’s worries about the strength of its case against Begum, if a trial did eventually occur. Journalists and other observers can only speculate as to the nature of secret UK intelligence on Begum. However, to date no formal accusation regarding Begum’s direct involvement in any terrorist activity, as an adult or otherwise, has been made. There are rumors of a leak from a UK Home Office briefing to the then Prime Minister Theresa May that Begum had been involved in sewing or otherwise manufacturing suicide vests, as well as taking part in the ISIS morality police. Begum denies these claims.
Speaking to Inside Arabia, Tasnime Akunjee highlighted another, somewhat bizarre potential problem with any such evidence the British government may present against Shamima Begum.
“One problem with intelligence coming out of a warzone,” said Akunjee, “particularly in the case of Shamima Begum is that there were two girls called Begum who were both from the same school, both from the same area. One was called Shamima Begum and the other was called Sharmeena Begum.” Both of these girls left Bethnal Green within a few months of one another. “Given that you are in an area where you have mainly Arabs,” continues Akunjee, “you have foreigners who come in and two of those foreigners have the same accent, are from the same background, both are Bangladeshi, and both are wearing Niqab….The question is who did what?”
Whether Shamima Begum is guilty of carrying out terrorist acts, or indeed whether she survives in Syria long enough to be repatriated, is rather beside the point. It is the responsibility of a democratic state to uphold the rule of law and provide a fair trial for all of its citizens. The broken clock is right this time.