The baby of Shamima Begum, a British teenager who joined the Islamic State and has sought to return home even as she has defended the group’s actions, has died in a detention camp in Syria, according to a spokesman for the group currently holding the woman.
Now 19, Ms. Begum was a 15-year-old schoolgirl when she slipped out of her parent’s home in the Bethnal Green district of London and joined two of her friends as they headed to Syria to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, or ISIS. She had lived inside the group’s territory for four years, married a fighter and had two children, both of whom she said died of malnutrition and were buried in ISIS’s last remaining village in Syria, which has now been encircled by coalition forces.
She was pregnant with her third child when she fled the group’s territory and surrendered to an American-backed group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which brought her to a detention camp. She was held there alongside other fighters’ wives, and was found by Anthony Loyd, a reporter for The Times of London, last month.
Speaking through an English translator, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustafa Bali, confirmed the death of the weeks-old infant on Friday, but did not provide details. Earlier in the day, Mr. Bali had tweeted that reports of the baby’s death were untrue, only to later delete the statement.
Late Friday, Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer representing the Begum family, said on Twitter that he had also confirmed reports that the infant had died.
Quoting a paramedic working for the Kurdish Red Crescent, the BBC reported that the infant was taken to a camp clinic on Thursday morning after the child began having trouble breathing. The baby died of pneumonia in the early afternoon Thursday, the broadcaster reported.
In interviews last month, Ms. Begum stated her desire to return to Britain while also playing down the brutality of ISIS’s crimes. In an interview with The Times of London, she said seeing a severed head in a bin “didn’t faze me at all” and said that living under the Islamic State had matched her aspirations.
“It actually really did. It was like a normal life,” she said, adding that she did not regret joining the Islamic State.
She also said that she wanted to return to Europe, citing the difficult conditions of the camp: “I’m scared this baby is going to get sick in this camp. That’s why I really want to get back to Britain, because I know it will be taken care of, like, health-wise, at least.”
In a subsequent interview, she said a terrorist attack that killed 22 people at a concert in Manchester, England, in 2017 was justified because coalition bombs had killed women and children inside the caliphate.
Ms. Begum’s remarks inflamed a debate in the West about whether governments had a responsibility to bring back their citizens who joined ISIS, thousands of whom are in detention facilities in Syria and Iraq. In Ms. Begum’s case, Britain’s Home Office informed her family that it intended to revoke her citizenship, according to a family lawyer, effectively rendering her stateless.
Ms. Begum will be allowed to appeal the order through the courts. Mr. Akunjee, the family lawyer, tweeted that the infant was a British citizen.
Speaking to the BBC, Britain’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “I have nothing but sympathy for the children that have been dragged into this. This is a reminder of why it is so, so dangerous for anyone to be in this war zone.”
The Kurdish officials who are running the sprawling detention camps where ISIS families are being brought have been overwhelmed by the influx of women and unaccompanied children.
In a statement, the International Rescue Committee reported on Friday that Al Hawl camp, where Ms. Begum was initially housed before being moved, was struggling to register around 12,000 women and children who had arrived out of ISIS’s last remaining territory in the past two days.
The aid group noted that at least 100 deaths have been recorded so far, most of them children.