The British schoolgirl who Shamima Begum insists was the reason she joined ISIS: Jihadi bride claims friend who was first to join terror group convinced her brutal videos were fake and told her she was living in paradise
- Sharmeena Begum – no relation – fled UK to join ISIS in 2014, followed by friends
- READ MORE: How Begum blames her family for ‘putting me all over the media’
Shamima Begum has used a BBC podcast to blame her best friend for her decision to join ISIS.
Sharmeena Begum – no relation – fled the UK to join ISIS in 2014, followed by Shamima and her schoolmates Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana two months later. They were all 15 at the time apart from Sultana, who was 16.
Unlike her notorious and publicity seeking friend, Sharmeena’s story is less well known – despite her being the first East London schoolgirl to make the journey.
Born to Bangladeshi parents in Tower Hamlets in 1999, she was largely brought up by her mother, Shahnaz, until 2007 when her father, Mohammed Nizam Uddin, moved to Britain.
It is mainly through interviews Mr Uddin has given to the media that we can build up a picture of Sharmeena’s early life – and make sense of Shamima’s attempts to portray her as the spark for her decision to embrace the ISIS death cult.
Sharmeena Begum (left) – no relation – fled the UK to join ISIS in 2014, followed by Shamima (right) and her schoolmates Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana two months later
Shamima was 15 when she ran away with Sultana, 16, and Abase, 15 – (all pictured at Gatwick airport)
Mr Uddin, a waiter, recalled Sharmeena as an ordinary young girl who enjoyed listening to Rihanna, watching EastEnders and shopping at Forever 21.
But he saw a sudden change when her mother died of cancer in 2013 aged 33.
Interviewed shortly after his daughter left for Syria, he said: ‘I told the police that Sharmeena definitely changed after her mother died.
‘She changed her dressing style and wore a scarf and started praying five times a day. Sometimes she would go to the East London Mosque for prayers.’
Mr Uddin was careful not to blame the mosque or groups within it for his daughter’s radicalisation, but his brother-in-law said the rest of the family blamed the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE’s) women’s group for poisoning the young girl’s mind.
ISIS bride Shamima Begum claims she was interrogated by Jihadi John
Baki Miah a step-uncle to Sharmeena, said: ‘They told her things like, if she goes and dies in Syria, she would go to paradise, where she would meet her mother.
‘I am 500 per cent sure that she was groomed at the East London Mosque. She was spending most of her time in the mosque, after school and all the time, she was spending in the mosque.’
Family members and relatives of the teenager said that they suspected rogue individuals within the IFE’s women’s wing, known as the Sisters Forum or Muslimaat, advised her to travel to Syria in the wake of her mother’s death.
The IFE has denied the claims.
Meanwhile, the mosque strongly denied playing a role in the radicalisation of Sharmeena and her three friends.
In a statement, the mosque’s lawyers said it was attended by thousands of worshippers each week ‘so it is possible, indeed probable, that one or more of the girls attended at some point’.
Mr Uddin believes Sharmeena was targeted through her phone by shadowy IS recruiters who exploited her vulnerability after her mother’s death.
‘Every parent should check what their children are doing on their phones at every moment,’ Mr Uddin at the time.
Whatever the exact cause of her radicalisation, Sharmeena wasted little time on acting on her twisted beliefs – travelling to Syria via Turkey in December 2014 after borrowing £500 from her grandmother she claimed was for shopping.
She also duped her grandmother – who she lived with – into handing over her passport, saying it was needed for a school project.
Her father had no idea what she was planning and was left distraught when she failed to come home after an overnight stay at her grandmother’s house.
When he rang Sharmeena’s mobile phone and heard a foreign dial tone, he called Scotland Yard to report her gone. Mr Uddin said: ‘The police told me it’s possible Sharmeena has joined Islamic State.’
After Sharmeena’s conversion to a stricter form of Islam following her mother’s death, she began trying to influence her other friends too
Born to Bangladeshi parents in Tower Hamlets in 1999, she was largely brought up by her mother, Shahnaz, until 2007 when her father, Mohammed Nizam Uddin, moved to Britain
During interviews on the BBC podcast I’m Not A Monster, Shamima Begum described how she first met Sharmeena at their school, Bethnal Green Academy.
‘It was Ramadan so we were fasting,’ she said.
‘I was complaining about fasting and Sharmeena came up and started complaining, saying she had to fast too because her mum made her.’
After Sharmeena’s conversion to a stricter form of Islam following her mother’s death, she began trying to influence her other friends too.
Shamima said: ‘The way she was talking about it was very persuasive.
‘I just wanted to go along with what my friend wanted so I could be accepted. I didn’t want to give them a reason to exclude me.’
Shamima Begum, pictured here wearing leggings and a white t-shirt, has changed her appearance radically since she was first found in the Al-Roj camp in Syria
After Sharmeena joined ISIS, Shamima said she began sending messages urging her to also join the death cult.
‘Sharmeena was asking what was going on at school and in between those conversations would talk about what it was like in ISIS and [try to] persuade us to come,’ she said.
‘I felt guilty, she was putting a lot of pressure on me and making me feel guilty, saying we had this obligation and you won’t be able to practice your religion in the UK.’
When a horrific video showed a Jordanian pilot being burnt to death in a cage by ISIS terrorists, Shamima said she asked her friend if the incident had actually happened.
Recalling their conversation, she said: ‘No, it’s a lie. What happened was he was flying over ISIS territory and ISIS shot him down, the plane crashed and caught on fire, and the video is of them dragging them out of the flames.’
Shamima Begum is currently living in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria after having her British citizenship revoked. Sharmeena Begum is missing and Abase and Sultana both presumed dead.
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