Mother accused of taking toddler to Syria told of 'flight from hell'


A British mother on trial accused of taking her toddler to Syria and joining Islamic State (IS) described her dash for the border to escape the group's clutches.

Tareena Shakil said she spotted the Turkish border and "just ran, ran, ran" with her child, making herself known to a friendly military patrol who took her into custody.

She also described life under IS rule, where she is alleged to have spent three months from October 2014, as "hell" and "horrible". She was being interviewed back in the UK by British police.

The prosecution claims she made up the story, and has showed messages in which she is alleged to have told friends and family she was "happy as Larry" to be living in the IS capital, Raqqa.

Photographs also allegedly show Shakil posing with an IS balaclava and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle, while in the city of some 200,000 people.

A senior security analyst, in evidence, said only Islamic State women from the all-female specialist police unit the Al-Khansa brigade were allowed access to weapons in the self-declared caliphate.

Jurors hearing evidence in the terror trial at Birmingham Court have already been told by Shakil's barrister his client accepts travelling to Syria and later lying about her account to the UK authorities, but denies wrongdoing.

In tapes of her police interview played to the court, she claimed to have gone on a package holiday to Turkey, falling for a mystery man she met at the beach, before being kidnapped and driven across the border after travelling to Gaziantep.

From there she said she was taken to Jarabulus in Syria with other women, including Russians, and after about a week arrived in Raqqa - though she claimed to be unaware that was the destination - where she lived with other non-married girls.

"They took us to a really big house. There was about 60 or 70 people," she said.

She added: "Immediately. I thought this place is hell, this place is hell. This place is not good. It's a horrible place."

While there, she said the girls were watched by two others - a Moroccan and Saudi woman, and that another man would visit to arrange marriages to jihadi fighters.

Shakil said: "All the time women; married, gone, married, gone, married, gone."

The 26-year-old, originally from Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire but recently of Beechfield Road in Birmingham, said other women wanted to escape but she decided to "play dumb" and sit tight while she learned the lie of the land.

She added: "I said (to them) I personally want to stay here a bit longer, act dumb, try to find out how do you travel around Syria."

A group of women did run away while she was living at the house, and after three months she claimed to have made the decision herself to escape.

"I'd just had enough," she said. "I was dying to go home. I'd just had enough. I'm in trouble whatever happens, I might as well take my chances."

She paid a taxi driver 50 US dollars (£35) to drive her towards the Turkish border.

"I heard him say 'Turkey, 1km'," she said.

"I said 'stop the car', threw him 9,000 Syrian dollars - grabbed my child and my Pampers, grabbed the blanket.

"And I just ran, ran, ran, because 1km is nothing.

"I can see these Isis fighters but they didn't see me, nobody came after me, nobody fired after me."

She added: "There were some Turkish soldiers and I said 'you need to help me'.

"I ended up in a detention centre. I was six weeks in that place, before I came here."

She returned to the UK on a Turkish Airlines flight into Heathrow airport in February 2015, and was arrested off the plane by British police.

Dr Florence Gaub, an expert in Arab conflict zones and government adviser, said only the women of the Islamic State's Al-Khansa brigade received weapons and the training to use them.

Giving evidence for the prosecution, she added the unit's members would also be among the few women permitted to leave Raqqa, without the special permission of their husbands or a Sharia court.

Shakil denies joining proscribed terror group IS and a charge of encouraging acts of terror through Twitter.

She is believed to be the first British woman to have allegedly returned from Islamic State-held territory to face such terror charges.

The trial continues.