A filmmaker who met Shamima Begum in a Syrian refugee camp says the former ISIS teenage bride sees herself as a “celebrity” after the recent media scrutiny.
Documentary filmmaker Andrew Drury, who has traveled to Syria several times to speak to the 23-year-old, said Begum is a “narcissist” who “sees himself as a victim.”
Begum, who is currently appealing a British government decision to strip her of her British citizenship, originally traveled to Syria to join ISIS when she was 15 years old.
Earlier this month, the BBC sparked outrage when it devoted a 10-episode podcast to the woman accused of sewing bombers into their suicide vests while living in ISIS-controlled territory in the Middle East.
Andrew Drury, pictured here with Shamima Begum in a Syrian refugee camp, says she is a ‘narcissist’
Begum, pictured here in leggings and a white t-shirt, has radically changed her look since she was first found in Syria’s Al-Roj camp
Mr Drury said he was initially taken in by Begum when he first met her, adding that he had ‘felt sorry’ for her.
Last week, however, he can see through the character she plays in front of the cameras.
The Times quotes him as saying: ‘She sees herself as a victim now, but she told me very clearly that it was her choice to go. [to Syria] and she went of her own free will
“She’s a narcissist. She wants to be someone. Now she sees herself as a celebrity. Being part of Isis meant she was somebody and now she’s somebody again.”
Last July, Mr Drury said the UK has a responsibility to bring British jihadist brides like Begum and their children ‘back home’ because it was not fair to leave them behind ‘to pose a danger to the Syrians and the Kurds’ who are ‘enough’. danger to deal with already’.
But he has since changed his mind – in September he said he believed Begum was a ‘manipulative personality who played the victim card in an attempt to return to the UK’.
He told the Sun at the time: “After extensive face-to-face encounters and a slew of bizarre text messages, I’m convinced she’s a bitter, deranged character with deep psychological issues.”
Mr Drury said he was ‘floored’ when she told him the death of her three children no longer saddens her and that she had ‘moved on’.
This, he said, began to change his view that Begum is a victim.
Mr Drury, who has written a book about his experiences traveling abroad for work called Trip Hazard, said she made no mention of being ‘trafficked or cared for’ when he first met her.
He claims she’s trying to “create a character” she can use to get back to the UK.
Whether she will be allowed back in Britain depends on the decision of a Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which is investigating her claims that she was wrongfully deprived of her citizenship.
Begum claims she was a victim of human trafficking after she and two friends traveled to Syria when she was 15 with the help of a spy working for Canadian intelligence.
The ISIS bride gave birth to three children after joining ISIS, none of whom survived. In the photo: Begum with her one week old son Jerah
While in Syria, she was married to Yago Rieddijk, a Dutch Muslim convert who was eight years her senior.
Four years later, she was found living in a Syrian refugee camp pregnant with her third child – her first two had died of malnutrition-related illnesses and her third would also die shortly after birth.
It was alleged that Begum had acted as an enforcer for ISIS’s strict Sharia lifestyle and even sewed vests to suicide bombers before their attacks – she denies this.
In her first interview after she was found, she sparked outrage after claiming that seeing “my first severed head in a trash can didn’t faze me at all.”
Days later, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid Begum stripped her of her citizenship, prompting a lawsuit from her supporters.
The Interior Ministry says Begum knew what she was up against when she joined ISIS, but her lawyers claim she was trafficked and sexually exploited.
Her family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, told the Times: “The court of public opinion is not under my jurisdiction.
“If she was being trafficked within the terms of the Modern Slavery Act and the Secretary of the Interior did not have this in mind, was the decision to strip her of her citizenship valid?”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: ‘The government’s priority remains to maintain the safety and security of the UK. It would be inappropriate to comment further while the legal proceedings are ongoing.”
The BBC sparked outrage earlier this month after releasing a podcast series featuring Begum defending her actions.
On the show, titled I’m Not A Monster, Begum said, “I’ve always been a more secluded person… I’m not one to like having a lot of attention on me.”
In the series, she described crossing the border into Syria as “easy” and talked about the journey she took with her school friends Amira Abase, also 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16.
It is clear that the BBC did not pay her any money for her participation in the series.
But critics argue the company shouldn’t give her the “oxygen” of publicity amid fears it will allow her to “twist” a “sob story” and use it as a PR opportunity.
Campaigning group the TaxPayers’ Alliance said in a social media post that the money from the BBC license fee “shouldn’t support this outrageous PR exercise to twist an Isis bride’s sob story”.
The BBC has said the series is “not a platform for Shamima Begum to tell her undisputed story”, but a “robust public interest investigation”.