Sajid Javid has warned he “will not hesitate” to prevent the return of Britons who travelled to join so-called Islamic State as debate flared over what should happen to runaway schoolgirl Shamima Begum.
The home secretary said those who left the UK to join IS were “full of hate for our country”, while the Security Minister, Ben Wallace, warned that runaways who now want to come back must realise that “actions have consequences”.
Ms Begum’s family has pleaded for the 19-year-old, who is heavily pregnant, to be shown mercy and to be allowed to return to east London.
Speaking to The Times at a refugee camp in northern Syria, Ms Begum said she would “do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child”.
Her case has received high-profile backing, with a former MI6 chief saying the teenager should be given a chance “if we are to stand by our values”.
Meanwhile Anthony Loyd, The Times correspondent who found Ms Begum, said she was a “15-year-old schoolgirl who made a terrible mistake… and we must do our best to rehabilitate her amongst our own people”.
But her plea has been strongly rejected by others – including the brother of Alan Henning, the British aid worker beheaded by Jihadi John, who said she should “absolutely not” be allowed back.
Speaking to The Times, Mr Javid said: “We must remember that those who left Britain to join Daesh 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. If you do manage to return you should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted.”
Any hopes of a rescue mission by British officials were swiftly quashed on Thursday as the Government ruled out an effort inside Syria to assist Ms Begum.
While refusing to comment on individual cases, Mr Wallace told the BBC: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.
“There’s consular services elsewhere in the region and the strong message this government has given for many years is that actions have consequences.”
While no official operation to remove Ms Begum from Syria will be carried out, questions have been raised over whether Britain would be able to prevent Ms Begum’s eventual return to the UK.
The former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, told the BBC that if Ms Begum has not gained a second citizenship of another country she will have to be allowed back to her homeland because under international law it is not possible for a person to be made “stateless”.