The husband of so-called ISIL bride Shamima Begum, who left the UK to join the armed group in Syria, says he wants her to return to the Netherlands with him, together with their newborn son.
Dutch national Yago Riedijk, 27, and Begum married after she slipped into the ISIL-held territory in northern Syria via Turkey in 2015.
In an interview with the BBC, broadcast on Sunday, Riedijk said he rejected ISIL and had tried to leave the group after he was tortured by its members who accused him of being a spy for the Netherlands.
He is currently held captive in a Kurdish detention centre in northern Syria and faces a six-year prison sentence for “joining a terror organisation” if he returns to the Netherlands.
In the interview, Riedijk was asked why he married a 15-year-old girl, while he was 23.
“To be honest, when my friend came and said there was a girl who was interested in marriage, I wasn’t that interested because of her age, but I accepted the offer anyway,” he told the BBC, adding that she had seemed to be “in a good state of mind”.
“It was her own choice. She asked to look for a partner for her, and I was invited … she was very young, maybe it would have been better for her to wait a bit. But she didn’t, she chose to get married and I chose to marry her.”
Last month, Begum’s father insisted in an interview with the AFP news agency that Britain must take his daughter back before deciding any punishment.
Begum, who gave birth this month in a refugee camp in Syria, has said she wants to come home – but the British government has decided to revoke her citizenship, calling her a security threat.
The 19-year-old’s father, Ahmed Ali, said that while his daughter had made mistakes, Britain was duty-bound to let her return.
“The British government should take her back because she is a British citizen,” said Ali, who has been following Begum’s plight from a remote village in northeastern Bangladesh.
“If she has committed any crime, they should bring her back to London, to her country, and punish her there.”
Begum left the UK for Syria with two schoolfriends in 2015, when she was just 15, and her case has caused political divisions in Britain.
It highlights a dilemma facing many European countries, divided over whether to allow ISIL fighters and sympathisers home to face prosecution or bar them as the so-called “caliphate” crumbles.
Public sentiment hardened against Begum after she showed little remorse about ISIL attacks in media interviews from the camp in eastern Syria, where she arrived after fleeing fighting between the group and the US-backed forces.
Ali, who lives with his second wife in the village of Daorai in Sunamganj district, said he felt sorry for his daughter and believed she may have been brainwashed into joining ISIL.
“It was certainly a mistake to go to IS [ISIL]. Perhaps it was because she was a child. She may not have gone there (Syria) willingly. She may have been ill-advised by other people,” he said.
Ali last saw his daughter in Britain just two months before she fled to Syria with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase in March 2015.
He highlighted how the Bangladesh government has declared that Begum would not be allowed into the country.
The British government reportedly believes that Begum was entitled to claim Bangladesh citizenship, though this is disputed by the South Asian country.
“She can’t come to Bangladesh since she is not a citizen of this country,” Ali said.
Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer for Begum’s family, earlier said the teenager was born in Britain and had never had a Bangladeshi passport.