The fate of a pregnant London schoolgirl who wants to return to Britain after joining the Islamic State group in Syria divided the nation today as reports emerged of more UK women fleeing the war zone.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told The Times that people like Shamima Begum "were full of hate for our country".
"My message is clear - if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return," Javid said in the interview published Friday.
But former MI6 foreign intelligence service chief Richard Barrett argued on Begum's behalf in an opinion piece for the left-leaning The Guardian newspaper.
"Despite the justifiable concern, governments have a responsibility to address the problems created by their captured nationals and also to look more closely at why they made the choices they did," Barrett wrote.
"Like it or not, these individuals were products of our society, and it would make sense to take a good, hard look at why they turned their backs on it in such dramatic fashion."
'Terrible price of childish decisions'
CAGE, a campaign group for Muslim detainees, also said Begum should be allowed to return.
CAGE's outreach director Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, said he had met "young teens who paid the terrible price of childish decisions".
Begum should be "counselled in the right direction to learn and acknowledge just how much the organisation she joined deviated from the basic principles of Islam and brought misery to the world," he said.
The story of Begum and two of her friends, who flew on their own to Turkey and crossed into Syria in 2015, stunned Britain and created global headlines.
Another girl from the same school in east London had run away the year before.
Their decisions created bitter resentment and disbelief in a country that has been a frequent target of bloody terror strikes linked to ISIS.
The Times newspaper managed to find an unrepentant Begum -- now 19 and about to give birth for the third time after seeing her first two children die -- at a refugee camp in eastern Syria.
"I just could not endure any more," she told the paper.
"I fled the caliphate. Now all I want to do is come home to Britain."
The British government does not have the power to keep Begum out because she still has a UK passport and has not been convicted of a crime.
But authorities could prosecute her or issue a special security notice that would see her detained at a UK airport.
'Had no choice'
Begum's brother-in-law Mohammed Rahman and other relatives of the surviving teens pleaded for mercy.
"I can understand why people in this country are angry and don't want her back," Rahman told The Times.
"But she was only 15 when she went to Syria. We are appealing for compassion and understanding on her behalf."
Begum fled together with two friends: Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase.
Sultana has since been reported killed. Begum said Abase stayed in a village where ISIS fighters are making a final stand against US-backed fighters.
Abase's father Hussen asked for forgiveness for the teens.
"They should be allowed to learn from their mistakes," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"They are no threat to us."
The Daily Telegraph reported from eastern Syria that seven British women and 15 of their children are believed to have fled Baghouz -- the village where IS fighters are making their last stand -- for two refugee camps.
The paper spoke to two British women at the camps who wanted to return.
A mother-of-four from London named Nassima Begum -- no relation to Shamima Begum -- said she "had no choice but to follow" her husband's decision to leave.
"Some of the women here believe in (ISIS). I can promise you I am not one of them," she said.
But another Londoner named Reema Iqbal was more reserved.
"The security services came to speak to me and I was honest, I told them my whole story so now it's up to them to judge," Iqbal said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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