Times war correspondent Anthony Loyd has revealed he found one of the three Bethnal Green schoolgirls who went to join Islamic State in Syria after hours of “tea” and “banter” with refugee camp authorities.
His exclusive interview with ISIS bride Shamima Begum, who fled the UK to join the terror group aged 15, was described as the “scoop of the decade” and has been followed up on the front pages of most national papers today.
It was also featured across news websites yesterday morning while The Times experienced “technical issues” with its own website and app, meaning a large number of subscribers could not read the article online.
Writing for The Times about how he found Begum, Loyd said she was brought before him after he “drank tea” and “bantered” with authorities at the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria for more than three hours.
He wrote: “In a small reception space I waited with my translator, whom I had known and worked with in previous years. We drank tea. We bantered and negotiated with the camp authorities.
“We waited some more. We drank more tea. More banter. Some coffee. Chat. Wait. I told them I knew that there were British ISIS wives in the camp. They told me I was wrong.”
Eventually, according to Loyd, one of the administrative staff walked off, annoyed about time being wasted, and brought back two children and two women – one of whom happened to be Begum.
Loyd wrote: “Despite every piece of planning, in its final moments the search for the Bethnal Green girls had ended in this moment of total serendipity as a harassed Syrian official, keen to get rid of a journalist in his office, simply waded into a crowded transit section for new camp arrivals and asked if any women there would be prepared to speak to a British reporter.
“Among those who heard him was Shamima Begum, alone, newly escaped from the battlefield and nine months pregnant.”
Press Gazette understands The Times has seen an increase in views and subscribers following yesterday’s scoop.
The Times interview with Begum, now 19, has led to front-page stories in The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Metro, the Daily Mail, The i paper and the Daily Express following new leads and lines.
The Daily Mirror carried a teaser for a story about Begum on today’s front page and yesterday’s Evening Standard splashed on a follow-up article.
Picture: Ben Gurr/The Times/PA Wire