Ex-Canadian spy calls for Shamima Begum's UK return after spy agency 'cover up'

New questions are now being asked about how Shamima Begum got to Syria, as Rohit Kachroo reports

A former Canadian intelligence officer has called for Shamima Begum to be returned to the UK because of what she claims were failures and a cover up involving the spy agency she once worked for.

Huda Mukbil, who used to be a senior officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says her former colleagues broke their own rules because the smuggler who brought Ms Begum and two school friends into Syria was also working as a covert source for the agency at the same time.

Next week the latest step in Ms Begum’s battle to have her British citizenship reinstated is expected to come to court.

The 23-year-old was stripped of her British citizenship in February 2019 when the Home Secretary judged her to be a threat to national security.

But Ms Begum’s lawyers are likely to argue that she should have her nationality reinstated because she was a victim of trafficking who was smuggled in by double agent Mohammed al-Rashed.

“I think it's important to repatriate her to the UK as well as making sure that she has the support”, said Ms Mukbil, who has assessed the evidence of the role played by al-Rashed while he was under Canadian direction.

“It’s a traumatic experience to be exploited in this way, unfortunately, by a Canadian source and to be trafficked and exploited by Isis fighters” she told ITV News.

“I’m not here to change anyone’s view on her but I think serious consideration needs to be given to her age when she was trafficked.”

Huda Mukbil says Shamima Begum has gone through a "traumatic experience" and should be allowed to return to the UK.

Ms Mukbil, who worked in the UK and in the Middle East during the rise of Isis, believes the Canadian intelligence agency did not follow proper procedures in its engagement with al-Rashed, so details of its involvement in the case should now be made public.

CSIS is alleged to have broken rules preventing its human sources from engaging in illegal activities while carrying out work on behalf of the service.

“It would be in violation of its own rules”, said Ms Mukbil, who is familiar with the Canadian procedures around agent handling. “What we want to know is what happened once the Canadian spy agency became aware that they were minors.”

“Ministerial approvals are necessary so that in itself is a failure. And then not owning up to that failure and saying something went wrong here is a failure.

"We might not have known that the source smuggled minors, but the moment that we did everything else after that lined up.

"Mistakes do happen but it’s what you do with it afterwards (that counts). And so, not sharing information with the Metropolitan Police was a mistake in my opinion”.

Even after Scotland Yard launched an urgent investigation into the whereabouts of the missing schoolgirls, Canadian spies sat on the information for several weeks before handing over the details to British investigators, according to The Secret History of the Five Eyes, by Richard Kerbaj, which studies the relationship between intelligence agencies in the UK and some other English speaking countries.

It was only once Turkish authorities arrested al-Rashed, more than a week after the girls entered Syria, that CSIS informed British police that their agent had transported the teens.

Listen to 'Shamima Begum: The Blame Game', available on Apple podcasts, and other platforms

“The Canadians only informed Scotland Yard following the arrest of their agent by the Turkish authorities at which point they discovered this could become a media controversy.

"So, to cover up the media controversy, they reached out to Scotland Yard and they confessed to running this mission and confessed to the intelligence blunder that had gone on”, said Kerbaj.

“In a way you could say that it’s a laudable thing that the Canadians were able to recruit someone from inside Isis territory when other agencies within the Five Eye intelligence network were struggling to so do.

"However, in this case, there was just bad tradecraft around recruitment because had it been well managed, the mistake of smuggling in children into Isis territory may not have happened.”

A spokesman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told ITV News: “There are important limits to what CSIS can confirm or deny given the need to protect sensitive techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence. 

“Since 2017, the government of Canada has strengthened the independent review and oversight of national security activities to ensure accountability to Parliament, the Federal Court, and Canadians."

The Metropolitan Police said the force does not comment on matters relating to intelligence.

“On one front the Canadians succeeded in infiltrating ISIS through the smuggler that they recruited”, says Kerbaj.

“But the problem is that they were working at odds with the British mission, which was to stop British girls getting in.

"So, on one hand you had the Canadians facilitating the entry of jihadis into Syria and on another hand you had the British trying to stop them from getting in."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...