Shamima Begum’s former best friend was found alive in Syria after escaping from a refugee camp and is now actively raising funds for ISIS.
Sharmeena Begum, no relation, was the first student at Bethnal Green Academy in east London to flee the UK to join ISIS in 2014, followed two months later by Shamima and her friends Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana.
Shamima previously blamed her older schoolmate for inspiring her to travel to Syria by presenting ISIS as a “paradise” and claiming videos of its atrocities were fake.
To this day, Sharmeena’s whereabouts are unknown since she left for Syria. Described by a former ISIS member as “radical even by ISIS standards”, she was tracked down by a journalist working for the BBC’s The Shamima Begum story podcast.
It is unclear how much money he has raised for ISIS in total, but one Bitcoin account showed 29 transactions with deposits totaling $3,000 (£2,450). When asked online why he was raising money for terrorists, Sharmeena said he was “just feeding and clothing poor women and children.”
Sharmeena Begum, no relation, was the first student at Bethnal Green Academy in east London to flee the UK to join ISIS in 2014.
Shamima has previously blamed her older schoolmate for inspiring her to travel to Syria by presenting ISIS as a “paradise” and claiming videos of its atrocities were fake.
A Syrian Democratic Forces commander warned that such fundraising attempts were helping ISIS to regroup.
Asked by the BBC if she was sorry for joining the terror group, Sharmeena dodged the question, saying only that she did not want to return to Britain and be sent to jail.
In a series of online messages with the BBC undercover journalist, Sharmeena slammed her former friend Shamima, calling her a “non-believer” and “just another person living on profits”.
She said Shamima only went to Syria because she “simply followed her friends into what became the greatest misery of her life.” And she dismissed speculation that Shamima had worked for Hisba, the ISIS religious police, and made suicide belts, calling the theories “an insult.”
Unlike her famous publicity-seeking friend, Sharmeena’s story is less well known, despite her being the first East London student to make the trip.
Born to Bangladeshi parents in Tower Hamlets in 1999, she was largely raised by her mother Shahnaz until 2007 when her father Mohammed Nizam Uddin moved to Britain.
Sharmeena remains a supporter of ISIS and has been raising funds online for members of the terror group, which is illegal.
Shamima was 15 when she ran away with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 – (all pictured at Gatwick airport)
Uddin, a waiter, remembered Sharmeena as an ordinary young woman who enjoyed listening to Rihanna, watching EastEnders and shopping at Forever 21.
But he saw a sudden change when his mother died of cancer in 2013 at age 33.
Interviewed shortly after his daughter left for Syria, he said: “I told the police that Sharmeena definitely changed after her mother’s death.
‘He changed his style of dress and wore a scarf and began to pray five times a day. She sometimes went to the East London Mosque to pray.
Uddin was careful not to blame the mosque or groups within it for his daughter’s radicalization, but his brother-in-law said the rest of the family blamed the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) women’s group for poisoning the mind of his daughter. the young
Baki Miah, Sharmeena’s adoptive uncle, said: “They told her things like if she went and died in Syria, she would go to paradise, where she would meet her mother.”
I am 500 per cent sure that it was prepared in the East London Mosque. She spent most of her time in the mosque, after school and all the time she spent in the mosque.’
Relatives and relatives of the teenager said they suspected rogue individuals within the women’s wing of the IFE, known as Sisters Forum or Muslimaat, advised her to travel to Syria after her mother’s death.
The IFE has denied the complaints.
Meanwhile, the mosque strongly denied having played a role in the radicalization of Sharmeena and her three friends.
In a statement, lawyers for the mosque said thousands of worshipers attended each week “so it is possible, indeed likely, that one or more of the girls attended at some point.”
Uddin believes Sharmeena was targeted via her phone by shadow recruiters for Islamic State who exploited her vulnerability after her mother’s death.
“All parents should check what their children are doing on their phones at all times,” Uddin said at the time.
Whatever the exact cause of her radicalisation, Sharmeena wasted no time in acting on her twisted beliefs: she traveled to Syria via Turkey in December 2014 after borrowing £500 from her grandmother who she claimed was to go shopping.
He also tricked his grandmother, with whom he lived, into giving him her passport, saying that he needed it for a school project.
Her father had no idea what she was planning and was distraught when she didn’t come home after spending the night at her grandmother’s house.
When he called Sharmeena’s mobile phone and heard a foreign dial tone, he called Scotland Yard to report that she had left. Uddin said: “The police told me that Sharmeena may have joined the Islamic State.”
Born to Bangladeshi parents in Tower Hamlets in 1999, Sharmeena was largely raised by her mother Shahnaz until 2007 when her father Mohammed Nizam Uddin moved to Britain.
During interviews on the BBC’s I’m Not A Monster podcast, Shamima Begum described how she met Sharmeena at her school, Bethnal Green Academy.
“It was Ramadan, so we were fasting,” he said.
“I was complaining about fasting and Sharmeena came over and started complaining, saying that she had to fast too because her mother made her do it.”
After Sharmeena’s conversion to a stricter form of Islam following her mother’s death, she also began trying to influence her other friends.
Shamima said: ‘The way he spoke was very persuasive.
‘I just wanted to agree to what my friend wanted so that it could be accepted. I didn’t want to give them a reason to exclude me.’
After Sharmeena joined ISIS, Shamima said she began sending her messages urging her to join the death cult as well.
“Sharmeena would ask what was going on at school and in between those conversations she would talk about what ISIS was like and (try to) persuade us to come,” he said.
‘I feel guilty. He 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 gruesome video showed a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage by ISIS terrorists, Shamima said she asked her friend if the incident really 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 fire, and the video is of them dragging him out of the flames.
Shamima Begum is currently living in Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria after having her British citizenship revoked.
In an earlier episode of the BBC podcast, published this week, she claimed that the jihadist John interrogated her after arriving in Syria.
She described how she and the two friends she fled the UK with were taken on a bus that stopped in the middle of a field.
‘An hour later five cars arrived and surrounded the bus. We were so scared we couldn’t even speak… then another car came and a man in a mask got on the bus. He had a small pistol on him. He sat across from me.
‘He asked us our real names, how old we were and where we came from. From those three questions he was able to deduce that we were the three girls from the news.
Sharmeena dismissed her ex-friend (pictured) as “just another person, living off the benefits
‘His face was covered, but his face looked like the jihadist John from the videos.
“The size, the eyes, the accent, it was distinctly British.
“They couldn’t believe in a million years that three teenagers could leave their good, comfortable lives in the UK for Syria without getting caught by the government.”
In the same episode, he also claimed that he had never seen videos of ISIS executions before leaving the UK, which contradicts his previous comments.
When asked by broadcaster Josh Baker how he could not have seen footage of ISIS violence, he said: “I didn’t know about these atrocities because when I was 15 I didn’t watch the news.”
“I got my news on social media where people were saying this is not true, it’s an exaggeration.”
This was in response to comments he made in 2019 to BBC Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville, who asked him: “One of the reasons you joined IS is because you saw some beheading videos, right? So?”
She replied: ‘Not just the videos of beheadings, the videos showing families and things in the park. The good life they can provide you. Not just fight videos, but also fight videos, I guess.’
This audio was played on the podcast, before Baker asked him: “You said earlier that you saw ISIS propaganda in London… you said you were aware of ISIS fighting and brutality before you left.”
‘No,’ she replied.
The Shamima Begum Story podcast is available on BBC Sounds.