BBC criticised for giving 'terrorist' Shamima Begum a platform
11th January 2023

‘I’m just so much more than ISIS’: BBC sparks outrage for ‘giving terrorists a platform’ as Shamima Begum lands 10-part podcast to ‘retrace her journey’ as she tells how she left the UK and ‘packed chocolate because she couldn’t find it in Syria’

  • The BBC released a 10-part podcast about Shamima Begum and her life in ISIS
  • The 23-year-old tells a journalist about her life in a refugee camp in Syria
  • The broadcaster insists that the show is a ‘robust’ investigation into Begum

The BBC was criticised today for ‘giving terrorists a platform’ after Shamima Begum landed a 10-part podcast to retrace her journey’.

The 23-year-old is heard at one point saying ‘I’m just so much more than ISIS’ and describing packing her bags with mint chocolate before heading to Syria to join the brutal death cult. 

Critics accused the BBC of ‘wasting licence fee payers’ money’ and said the families of ISIS victims would be ‘mortified’. One tweeted: ‘Trust the BBC to still have interest in this saga. Do we really want to know what this terrorist has done with her life. NO we don’t!’  

The BBC said the podcast would provide Ms Begum’s ‘full account’ of ‘what really happened’ when she disappeared from London in 2015 to become a jihadi bride. But it insisted they were not allowing her to tell her story ‘unchallenged’, describing the podcast as a ‘robust, public interest investigation’. 

The BBC has released a 10-part podcast about Shamima Begum in which she tells her story of how she joined ISIS

In 2015, Begum (centre), then 15, and her school friends Kadiza Sultana (left), 15, and Amira Abase (right), 16, fled their East London homes to join IS. Her two companions are believed to have died while there

In 2015, Begum, then 15, and her school friends Kadiza Sultana, 15, and Amira Abase, 16, fled their East London homes to join IS.

Begum, now 23, was found in a refugee camp in 2019 and soon after the UK withdrew her citizenship and banned her from entering Britain.

She now lives at the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which she described as ‘worse than a prison’ on the podcast.

The BBC Sounds podcast follows an investigative journalist who has been talking to Begum for a year and it gives ‘her full account of what really happened after she disappeared’.

In the first episode, journalist Josh Baker meets Begum in the Syrian detention camp to discover how she joined ISIS and eventually ended up stranded.

She told him about being stuck in a camp: ‘This is, I feel, worse than a prison I think it’s because at least with prison sentences you know that there will be an end but here you don’t know if there’s going to be an end.’

On the topic of public anger aimed at her, she said: ‘I don’t think it’s actually towards me. I think it’s towards Isis.

‘When they think of Isis they think of me because I’ve been put on the media so much but what was there to obsess over?

‘We went to Isis, that was it. It was over, it was over and done with.’

In the podcast the 23-year-old claims that the refugee camp in Syria she is in is ‘worse than a prison’

Critics accused the BBC of ‘wasting licence fee payers’ money’ and said the families of ISIS victims would be ‘mortified’. Pictured are some of the critical tweets 

Begum also details her journey to Syria, and how she was given detailed instructions by IS members. 

But she also researched information herself including looking for IS members online to help her and her friends plan their journey.

The podcast reveals how Begum and her friends hid their luggage in advance and how they game-planned for scenarios where they were quizzed or caught out:

‘There were people online telling us and like advising us on what to do and what not to do,’ she says. 

‘Just like how to get the money to buy the tickets, where to buy the tickets, which airport to go to, what to bring, what to wear, when you’re going to the airport, who to talk to, who not to talk to, what excuse to make if you do get caught you know.’

When asked how she decided what items to take, Begum says: ‘I mean it’s the same as when you go on vacation, you’re just [thinking] what do I need for a vacation, it’s pretty basic items.’

‘I don’t know, people used to say like, about like pack nice clothes so you can like dress nicely for your husband.’

She says she also packed items she knew she wouldn’t find in Syria, including mint chocolate: ‘I’m not going to lie, I took candy. I just like bought candies that I knew I wouldn’t find in Syria. Mint Aero, mint chocolate, like a lot. You can find a lot of things in this country but you cannot find mint chocolate. It’s a tragedy. Tragedy.’

Asked about how she felt about potentially never coming back to the UK, she says: ‘Really at that time, I just was not thinking, my mind was like completely blank but I guess yes I thought this is the last time I’m going to see the UK. I mean in a way I felt kind of relieved.’

The BBC said the podcast is not an opportunity for Begum to tell her story unchallenged, but is a ‘robust public interest investigation’

Begum also says: ‘I’ve always been a more secluded person. That’s why it’s so hard the way my life has turned out being all over the media because I’m not a person that likes a lot of attention on me.’

‘My family thought I was too weak to do something so crazy so they, they did not think in a million years I could do that because of who I, am because of my personality.’    

Josh Baker says: ‘There are different ways to tell the Shamima Begum story. There’s the one about a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was groomed and lured to a war zone by ISIS and now needs saving from a Syrian detention camp.

‘And there’s the one about a traitor, who fled Britain to join ISIS and became known the world over as a terrorist and must be stopped from coming back to Britain.

‘As Shamima challenges the removal of her British citizenship by the UK government, I’ve examined her accounts to give listeners a definitive narrative on this complex, nuanced and shocking story.’

The series says it is aiming to ‘separate fact from fiction’ as it tries to answer the question ‘who is Shamima Begum?’

Other topics that will be explored include how she got to Syria and what did she did when she got there.

The broadcaster also states that the podcast is not an opportunity for Begum to tell her story unchallenged, but is a ‘robust public interest investigation’.

  • Episode 1 of ‘I’m Not A Monster’: The Shamima Begum Story is available to listen to today on BBC Sounds. New episodes will be available and will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from 11am.

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