A BRITISH mother who travelled to Syria with her five young children to live among ISIS fighters described the experience as
“Not my cup of tea.”
Former Guantanamo detainee Jamal Al Harith joins Islamic State
Shukee Begum, 33, said she went to the war-torn country to find her husband Jamal al-Harith, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who left Britain 18 months ago to join the group.
Harith, a Muslim convert born Ronald Fiddler, was released from Guantánamo Bay and repatriated to Britain in 2004 after lobbying by the British government.
see Below for more details Jamal al-Harith
‘Isis…it was just not my cup of tea’: British mum speaks
A law graduate from northern England, Ms Begum insists she only travelled to persuade her husband to return and never supported the ISIS militants, who have carved out regions of control in Iraq and Syria.
“I was seeing on the news at this point that ISIS was going from bad to worse … So I decided that I was going to try and speak some sense into him,” she told Channel 4 in an exclusive interview.
Shukee Begum, 33, claimed she and her children, who were all under nine years old, found themselves in crowded and uncomfortable conditions.
Ms Begum, from Oldham, described the conditions in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa as “worse than I expected”,
She said: “You’ve got hundreds of families living in one hall, sharing perhaps one or two bathrooms between them, one or two kitchens between them.
“My husband is a family man. I’ve always known him. I’ve been married to him for 11 years. I’ve always known him to be a good man with good characteristics.”
At first, Ms Begum lived in an overcrowded safe house in the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa with “hundreds of families living in one hall”, many “crying” and “sick”, who were sharing one or two bathrooms.
“There was a gangster-kind-of mentality among single women there. Violent talk, talking about war, killing,” Ms Begum said.
“They would sit together and huddle around their laptops and watch ISIS videos together and discuss them and everything. It was just not my cup of tea.”
After she was reunited with her husband, who refused to help her leave, ISIS authorities would not allow her to go, Ms Begum added.
“This is what I want to make clear as well to other women thinking of coming into ISIS territory — that you can’t just expect to come into ISIS territory and then expect that you can just leave again easily,” she said. “There is no personal autonomy there at all.”
“I’d love to go back to the UK. The UK is my home. I grew up there. My friends are there. My family are there. That’s where I consider to be home,” she said.
“But I’m just not sure at the moment, with the track record of the current government, if the UK is somewhere I can achieve justice. I hope I’m wrong.”
Hundreds of Britons have travelled to join Islamic State.
A report released last month indicated dozens of fighters have defected from the group, notorious for beheadings and blowing up ancient monuments, due to disillusionment over killing fellow Sunni Muslims and civilians.
Jamal Udeen Al-Harith
Jamal Udeen Al-Harith, born Ronald Fiddler (born 20 November 1966) is a British citizen who was held in extrajudicial detention as a suspected enemy combatant in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba for more than two years. Al-Harith’s Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 490. He was born in Manchester, United Kingdom.
Together with the Tipton Three, he was among five British citizens repatriated in March 2004 and the next day released by British authorities without charge. That year, he was a party to Rasul v. Rumsfeld, which sued the United States government and the military chain of command for its interrogation tactics. The case was finally dismissed in 2009 after being remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the US District Court for the District of Columbia, on grounds of the government officials having had “limited immunity” at the time. In December 2009, the US Supreme Court declined to accept the case for hearing on appeal.
Early life and education
He was born Ronald Fiddler in 1966 in Manchester, England, to parents who had migrated from Jamaica. He has a sister Maxine Fiddler. Fiddler attended local schools. He became a web designer, working in Manchester.
Conversion and travels
Several years later, Al-Harith started an Internet relationship with Samantha Cook, who lived in Perth, Australia. He traveled there in early 2000 to meet her in person. She is the daughter of the Australian Senator Peter Cook. After their relationship ended in July 2000, he returned to Manchester and his work.
Travel and detention
After some time back in Manchester, in 2002 Al-Harith traveled to Pakistan for a backpacking trip. While there, he paid a truck driver to take him to Iran. The truck was stopped when he passed near the Afghan border. Taliban guards, seeing his British passport, arrested him as a British spy, which was typical of their treatment of foreigners.
American troops discovered Al-Harith among numerous foreigners held by the Taliban in jail in Kandahar and released him. He was being aided by the Red Cross to make arrangements to return to Britain. They enabled him to call his family in Britain, whom he told he would be soon flying home. The Red Cross had arranged with the British embassy to fly him out from the American airbase to Kabul to meet the British representative.
But, Al-Harith was not allowed to leave Kabul because Americans had become suspicious about the purpose of his travels in the region. Not believing his explanations, they arrested him as a suspected enemy combatant and transported him to Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The military held him there and interrogated him for more than two years without charges. He said he suffered “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment”.
The Americans notified the Australian government of Al-Harith’s detention because he had recently been in the country. The ASIO carried out an investigation of his activities while in the country and concluded that he was not a security risk.
Repatriation and release
In March 2004, Al-Harith was among five British citizens, including the Tipton Three, who were released and repatriated to the United Kingdom. The next day, all were released by British authorities without charges.
After being released, Al-Harith joined the British plaintiffs Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Ruhal Ahmed (the Tipton Three), all former Guantánamo Bay detainees, in Rasul v. Rumsfeld, to sue Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004. They charged that illegal interrogation tactics, including torture and religious abuse, were permitted to be used against them by Secretary Rumsfeld and the military chain of command. They were aided by representation by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a private law firm.
The case went through several levels of hearings: the US District Court, the Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court. Following the US Supreme Court’s decision of Boumediene v. Bush (2008), which ruled that detainees had the right to access federal courts directly, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the US District Court. It dismissed the case in 2009 on the grounds of “limited immunity” for government officials, holding that at the time in question, the courts had not clearly established that torture was prohibited in the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo. (This was established by law in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.) In December 2009, the US Supreme Court declined to accept the case for hearing on appeal.
Because of his imprisonment as a “terrorist,” Al-Harith has had difficulty getting work in Britain. His sister has said that he is struggling to get back to his life.
Al-Harith and other former Taliban prisoners
Al-Harith was one of nine former Taliban prisoners whom the Associated Press identified as having been freed from Taliban custody only to be taken up into United States military custody. He was among the Kandahar Five, detainees who had all been jailed previously in the Kandahar prison. When the Northern Alliance liberated the prison in December 2001, they freed 1500 men.
In 2014, al-Harith travelled to Syria to enlist in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant . His wife, with their five children, joined him for some months in 2015 before fleeing from the Isis-controlled territory.