I’ve received many emails about Shamima Begum, the British ‘Jihadi bride’ now held in a refugee camp in Syria. Notwithstanding her youth, the loss of two children, and just having given birth to a third, my correspondents have little sympathy for her. To be fair, she hasn’t helped with her own comments to journalists about having no regrets, and for trying to justify the 2017 Manchester bombing that murdered the children of others.
We have had two sessions on this in the Commons and I found myself having to make the same point to the Home Secretary on both occasions.
Although, he would not address Mrs Begum’s case specifically, the objective is to resist the return of as many Daesh fighters and their camp-followers from Syria as we possibly can.
Estimates vary, but we are talking about several hundred, of which just less than half have already managed to slip back.
The Home secretary was robust in announcing his intention to use all the powers available to him to keep them out, including stripping them of UK citizenship. True to his word, he then stripped Mrs Begum of her citizenship.
The problem is that the ability to take away citizenship only applies in cases where dual nationality is held. The Home secretary has already lost a number of legal challenges and I have every confidence that after a few rounds in the courts Mrs Begum will recover her citizenship and arrive back in full expectation of access to public services, housing and benefits.
Of course, she will be subject to police enquiries as to what UK laws she broke in Syria as a Jihadi bride, but then we can imagine the difficulty of securing credible evidence and witnesses sufficient to sustain any charges beyond reasonable doubt.
With literally hundreds of these cases our resources will be swamped. Indeed, they already are.
Our regime for monitoring suspected terrorists is extraordinarily expensive and demanding of police time. The old ‘control orders’ introduced by Labour were difficult enough to administer, but then, at the insistence of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government, they were revamped and emerged as TPIMs – an even more complicated and expensive arrangement.
The reality is that we cannot rely on the courts to deliver security in the face of this returning threat.
There is an expedient to which we have had recourse in the past both in wartime and during heightened terrorist threat: internment. Or, as it is properly known, ‘executive detention’.
It is not a silver bullet, and certainly it needs to be selectively and intelligently applied.
Some experts argue that it was counterproductive in Northern Ireland: that the intelligence was poor, leading to many of the wrong people being interned with consequent greater opportunities for radicalization. Also, that the circumstances in which they were accommodated facilitated that process of radicalization.
If however, we learn from those mistakes, internment could be a useful tool for more effectively taking out of society a large number of returnees, at least until they are sufficiently assessed and quarantined.