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I met ISIS bride Shamima Begum to get inside her mind – a chilling text message changed my whole opinion of her

FEW people have a hotline to Britain’s most notorious IS bride.

But as a journalist and filmmaker travelling to some of the world’s most perilous countries, for a year I got closer to Shamima Begum than anyone else.

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Shamima Begum fled to Syria in February 2015 and lived under Isis rule for more than three years before she was foundCredit: Andrew Drury/ Magnus Newsa
Journalist and film maker Andrew Drury with the 23-year-old

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Journalist and film maker Andrew Drury with the 23-year-oldCredit: Richard Ashmore/ Magnus News
Shamima seen with her baby as she speaks on ITV - later confessing she no longer felt sad about the death of her three children

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Shamima seen with her baby as she speaks on ITV – later confessing she no longer felt sad about the death of her three children

During our time together, the 23-year-old, who was born and raised in East London, thought she could manipulate me into thinking she is a victim of trafficking.

But after extensive face-to-face meetings and a slew of bizarre text messages, I am convinced she is a bitter, twisted character with deep psychological problems.

Astonishingly, she told me the death of her three children “doesn’t make me feel sad any more”.

And she callously blamed the bloodshed in Ukraine for turning the media spotlight away from her.

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She told me via WhatsApp: “I think the world’s eyes are all on Ukraine so even if I put something new out it’ll get buried quickly.”

I visited Al-Roj camp in north east Syria four times to see Shamima and her fellow inmates. I wanted to work out why they had decided to turn their backs on Western society in 2015 and join a murderous death cult.

It is a journey that has been thrust into the spotlight again, with new claims that she was “smuggled” by an intelligence agent for Canada.

At times Shamima seemed much like any young woman of her age. She is a fan of Will Smith, told me she enjoyed watching Louis Theroux documentaries and asked me to bring her sports bras from the UK.

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But as time went on I discovered a manipulative personality playing the victim card in an attempt to get back to the UK.

I first met the ISIS bride in June 2021 after I went to Syria to film for a documentary, Danger Zone.

‘Heads in bins’

I think the only reason she agreed to talk to me was because I showed her footage from a Netflix show I had been in, called Dark Tourist.

At the time I felt sorry for her and genuinely thought she was a victim. I am a father of daughters and I felt ­protective of her.

On a walk around the camp she told me she regretted giving her first media interviews, in which she unguardedly and infamously spoke of being “unfazed” by seeing “beheaded heads” in bins.

Begum, second from right, claimed in a September 2021 interview with Good Morning Britain she had been 'groomed' by members of ISIS

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Begum, second from right, claimed in a September 2021 interview with Good Morning Britain she had been ‘groomed’ by members of ISISCredit: Andrew Drury/ Magnus News

She said: “People need to understand that at that time, when I was doing all those interviews, I had just come out of a war zone, lost two kids, and I was pregnant.”

We must have talked for more than an hour and there was a genuine ­connection between us, so much so that she asked for a hug before I left. I still feel guilty about hugging her.

I next saw Shamima in September 2021, when I travelled with an ITV crew to film a live interview for Good ­Morning Britain.

When I’d met her in June, she was wearing Western clothes, but she was very conscious about her bra strap showing and revealing too much skin.

Fast forward three months and she seemed a lot more body-confident. She even asked me what nail varnish colour she should wear on camera.

When I saw her on TV that day, she seemed to be enjoying the attention. And she was learning that to gain sympathy, she had to tell people she had been trafficked and radicalised.

But something else happened before the filming on this visit that again made me feel sorry for her.

Away from the cameras she showed me photographs of her late children, who she had had with convicted terrorist Yago Riedijk — who she had married ten days after landing in Syria. Her youngest child, Jarrah, died shortly after her arrival at Al-Roj.

As a parent, it made me feel very emotional. Before we left the camp Shamima took my phone number.

The reply floored me. I thought: ‘Hold on, there’s something wrong here.’ You cannot get over the death of three children in such a short time — it would absolutely traumatise any human being.

On October 7, 2021 I was in a work meeting in Surrey, with my feet up on the desk, when my phone pinged with a WhatsApp message: “Hey Andy, it’s Shamima.”

I messaged back saying how I had felt emotional after seeing the photos of her kids.

She replied: “If you [sic] makes you feel any better I’ve moved on from that part of my life. It doesn’t make me feel sad any more.”

The reply floored me. I thought: “Hold on, there’s something wrong here.” You cannot get over the death of three children in such a short time — it would absolutely traumatise any human being.

My brother died when I was 11 and I have been holding on to that trauma for 45 years.

This reply — and seeing how she was during filming — started to change my opinion. Any sympathy I might have had for her was now gone.

But I still wanted to work out why she had joined IS — and if someone made her do it.

I travelled back to Syria in November last year for the third time in six months, this time with a crew from Sky News. During preparations to travel out again, Shamima had been texting me and asking for things.

‘Taking the news ­spotlight away from her’

She wrote: “I don’t have a lot of winter clothes so could you maybe bring me a pair of black skinny jeans and a plain black hoodie.”

I knew she thought she was manipulating me, but I needed a way to ­continue my journalistic journey.

She asked for size six jeans and size eight for a hoodie. I bought them from Primark.

In June 2021 there were about eight or nine Western IS brides who hung about with ­Shamima. They wore Western clothes and seemed protective of her, although when she was not around, some of them told me she was mad.

Now that group is down to about three or four core individuals, because the other women have been allowed back to their countries.

Shamima had become more ­reclusive and seemed to mix mostly with Hoda Muthana, an American IS bride who also had her citizenship removed. Before my final trip to see Shamima in June this year, she and Hoda asked me to get more clothes.

Shamima messaged: “Can we ask you to get us some bras and underwear. Hodas size is 38 C and my size is 34 B. Hoda’s underwear size is medium.

“Can u get a few tank tops and leggings for us both. Everything for Hoda is a medium. Any shop is fine. Can u also add in sport bras . . . And pyjama shorts.”

Everytime something like the Ukraine crisis happens in the world we feel like all our cases are pushed to the side and that we’ll never get out of here.

Shamima Begum

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Shamima and I were ­discussing preparations for what would be my last visit.

Join the death cult

In the run-up to this final trip, we chatted about day-to-day events just to keep in touch.

She wrote: “Everytime something like the Ukraine crisis happens in the world we feel like all our cases are pushed to the side and that we’ll never get out of here.”

Shamima had again lowered my opinion of her. She did not care about the suffering of the people of Ukraine. She was more bothered that it was taking the news ­spotlight away from her.

I hoped taking clothes to the camp would encourage her to tell me more about why and how she went to Syria.

Despite how strong our relationship was, the only name she ever gave me for how she got involved in IS is Sharmeena Begum.

Sharmeena was the original British IS bride, who left the UK aged 19 to join Daesh in December 2014.

Two months later, Shamima — then 15 — and her friends, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, also left the country.

I believe she wanted to be a somebody, and thought she could achieve this by joining IS. Even if she was low-level, she still liked the attention.

Shamima knew Sharmeena and told me she influenced her to join the death cult. I asked her who the ringleader was and she blamed Sharmeena, but I think out of her own group of friends, it was Shamima.

I believe she wanted to be a somebody, and thought she could achieve this by joining IS. Even if she was low-level, she still liked the attention.

On my first visit, I thought she was a simple girl who had been trafficked and who had little ­intelligence. But it has become apparent to me that she is sharp and clever, and often uses that to her advantage.

Shamima has tried everything she can to get out of that prison camp. At first she seemed to think the Caliphate was coming back and she was defiant.

But since the fall of IS in 2019, she has played the victim, and even drew me into her warped narrative.

I don’t think I was a terrorist, I think I was just a dumb kid who made one mistake.

Shamima Begum

In our first talks together ­Shamima told me: “I don’t think I was a terrorist, I think I was just a dumb kid who made one mistake.”

These days, she promises she will be a “voice against radicalisation” if she is allowed to return to Britain.

Shamima hasn’t messaged me since June. She claimed she was unhappy with stories in the news about her.

To me, the new revelations about “spies” and the young Brit being trafficked feel implausible, like something from a James Bond movie.

Life in the camp for Shamima is not what I would call tough. It is like living in a village.

They have a shop, there is a school for the kids and most of the tents in Shamima’s section have a TV, shower and air conditioning.

In the summer there is a patch of concrete where the women have told me they get together and play music and dance into the night.

I have visited families in Syria and Iraq who are starving and still living in homes blown up by IS, with plastic sheets over the windows and doors.

These people are the victims, not Shamima.

Andrew’s encounters with Shamima and his travels as one of the world’s prolific extreme location adventurers are detailed in his new book Trip Hazard, which is out this autumn and is available to pre-order from Candy Jar Books for £9.99.

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