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Runaway schoolgirl who joined ISIS cannot return to U.K., top court says

Shamima Begum's case has been the subject of a heated debate in Britain over the responsibilities of the state toward her.
Image: Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum
A surveillance camera image shows Shamima Begum (right) and two friends at Gatwick Airport in 2015.Metropolitan Police Service / AFP - Getty Images

LONDON — A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join the Islamic State militant group should not be allowed to return to Britain to challenge the government taking away her citizenship because she poses a security risk, the U.K.'s Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Shamima Begum left London in 2015 when she was 15 and went to Syria via Turkey with two schoolfriends where she married an ISIS fighter.

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Begum, 21, who is being held in a detention camp in Syria, was stripped of her British citizenship in 2019 but the Court of Appeal previously agreed she could only have a fair appeal of that decision if she were allowed back to Britain.

But the country's top court overturned that decision, meaning that although she can still pursue her appeal against the decision to take away her citizenship, she cannot do that in Britain.

The British government had argued that the intelligence agencies concluded those who aligned with ISIS posed a serious current risk to national security.

"If a vital public interest — in this case, the safety of the public — makes it impossible for a case to be fairly heard, then the courts cannot ordinarily hear it," the Supreme Court judges concluded.

Begum's case has been the subject of a heated debate in Britain, pitting those who say she forsook her right to citizenship by traveling to join ISIS against those who argue she should not be left stateless but rather face trial in Britain.