Shamima Begum’s friends: what happened to Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana?
Shamima Begum has been dismissed by her former best friend, who has called the one-time London pupil a non-believer after leaving IS.
Sharmeena Begum, who is no relation and reportedly talked Shamima into joining with Islamic State (IS), was recently tracked down and questioned by a BBC reporter. Sharmeena was found to have escaped from a detention centre in Syria and to be fundraising for the terrorist group.
Shamima last month lost her legal challenge with the Government over the decision to remove her British citizenship. The former Bethnal Green schoolgirl had been attempting to win back her passport since the decision was made by then-home secretary Sajid Javid in February 2019.
Sharmeena reportedly dismissed her former friend, who she mocked for "living off benefits".
"She just followed her friends into what became the biggest misery of her life,” she said of Shamima, who joined IS two months after she had in 2015.
At a hearing in November last year, Shamima’s barrister Samantha Knights KC told a hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London that she had been the victim of a “determined Islamic State propaganda machine” when it lured her to Syria in 2015 when she was a 15-year-old. That was also the age she left the UK alongside two other friends, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15.
Shamima has said: “Sharmeena was, you know, talking to us face-to-face about, you know, coming to ISIS.
"I was being manipulated into thinking this was the right thing to do and I was being manipulated with lies about where I would be going and what I would be doing.
"I mean, in my opinion, even though Sharmeena probably is still radical. I will say she was also a victim of ISIS.”
The trio joined the Islamic State group the same year. Shamima has been prominent in the news in recent years due to her attempts to regain British citizenship and return to the country. It has since been claimed that she was smuggled into Syria by a Canadian spy.
However, less is known about the two girls who left with Shamima as teenagers. All three were married to Islamic State members, but their stories differ from then on.
Here’s a look at what happened to Ms Abase and Ms Sultana since leaving the UK.
What happened to Amira Abase?
Ms Abase married an 18-year-old Australian Islamic State fighter Abdullah Elmir. He was nicknamed the “Ginger Jihadi” owing to his ginger hair.
Elmir was confirmed dead after a drone strike in December 2015, shortly after Ms Abase had left the UK.
After leaving the UK, Ms Abase stayed in contact with her mother via social media, but these messages stopped suddenly.
Although Shamima has said she believes her friend to still be alive, Ms Abase’s mother told press that she believes her daughter is dead.
What happened to Kadiza Sultana?
The eldest of the three teenagers, Ms Sultana also stayed in contact with her family for a time after leaving the UK. This has been documented in phone calls filmed by ITV News.
Having married an American Islamic State fighter, Ms Sultana maintained she was a housewife. However, intelligence sources claimed she was involved with stitching explosives into suicide vests.
Ms Sultana’s sister told ITV News that she sounded “very terrified”.
“She did get very emotional there as well. It feels… I feel really helpless,” said Halima Sultana. “What can I do? It’s really hard. I don’t think she’s ever made a choice by herself. That was the first one and a very big one. I just look forward to the next call and that’s what keeps me going.”
Ms Sultana is believed to have died in a Russian airstrike a few weeks after those phone calls in May 2016. However, this has never been independently confirmed.
The family lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, told BBC Newsnight that the family had received reports of her death.
“The problem with that was the risk factors around leaving are quite terminal in that, if ISIS were able to detect and capture you, then their punishment is quite brutal for trying to leave,” Mr Akunjee said.
“In the week where she was thinking of these issues, a young Austrian girl had been caught trying to leave ISIS territory and was by all reports beaten to death publicly, so given that that was circulated in the region as well as outside — I think Kadiza took that as a bad omen and decided not to take the risk. I think she found out pretty quickly that the propaganda doesn’t match up with the reality.”
Years afterwards, Shamima also spoke openly about the presumed death of her friend: “At first I was in denial. I thought, if we died, we’d die together.”
What happened to Sharmeena Begum?
Begum was the first of the Bethnal Green girls to flee to Syria. She was recently tracked down by a BBC reporter, who discovered that she had escaped Syria’s Camp Hol prison for women who were with IS.
Begum is still in Syria, hiding under a different identity. According to the BBC, she has been fundraising for IS and posting about the conditions of the detention camps on social media.
She claimed that the money she was raising was “simply feeding and clothing women and children who are poor”.
However, the BBC reports that IS is regrouping and using money smuggled into the camps to buy weapons and plan attacks.