Fifteen-year-old left home after 18 months of sadness following death of mother from cancer and father getting remarried, friends tell the Guardian
The first of four teenage schoolfriends who left London to join Islamic State was 15-year-old Sharmeena Begum, who fled at the end of last year weeks after her father remarried, the Guardian has learned.
Sharmeena, who has not previously been named, was lured by Isis propaganda to go to Syria in December 2014 to after enduring 18 months of tumult in her private life, during which her mother died from cancer.
Her fathers second marriage was attended by at least one of her school friends, who subsequently followed in her footsteps in February, and travelled to an Isis-controlled area of Syria.
Sharmeena was the first of four 15- and 16-year-old girls, pupils at the Bethnal Green academy in east London, who disappeared from their homes and are believed to have travelled to parts of Syria controlled by Islamic State. The other three disappeared together two months later.
It is understood that in early December 2014 Sharmeena flew out of the UK via Gatwick airport to Istanbul, and then travelled by road across Turkey to its border with Syria.
Her father, Mohammad Uddin, told Saturdays Daily Mail that his daughter was a normal teenager who enjoyed watching soaps and wanted to be a doctor.
Two months after her disappearance three of her schoolfriends Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum (no relation) and Amira Abase also flew to Turkey and subsequently crossed the border into Syria.
Uddin said he had warned police and the school to keep an eye on his daughters three closest friends following her disappearance. He said he had questioned the trio after she left but they denied knowing of her plans.
They did tell Uddin that she had been in covert phone contact with an unknown woman. Police told him that two women had encouraged Sharmeena to join Isis and took her to Gatwick for her flight to Istanbul.
Sharmeenas mother died from cancer about 18 months before her daughter fled. She was living with her grandmother in east London, and when her father remarried, the ceremony was attended by Kadiza, her sister told the Guardian.
Kadizas elder sister Halima Khanon said: Kadiza went to the wedding, about a month before she disappeared.
Renu Begum, sister of Shamima, said: Her mum passed away one-and-a-half years ago, the dad remarried. She was living with her nan.
Sharmeena left for Turkey on the same day that another teenager from east London was taken off a British Airways plane on the tarmac at Heathrow by police, minutes before the flight left for Turkey. Police believe the two attempts to join Isis on the same day were unrelated.
Sharmeenas disappearance in December led to an investigation by Scotland Yards counter-terrorism command, during which her schoolfriends were interviewed as witnesses. Among seven teenage girls spoken to were the three who left the UK in February.
Police accept that they wrote letters to the parents in February, saying their children had been friends with Sharmeena, who had gone abroad, and asking for permission to take a formal statement.
But instead of delivering the letters directly to the parents, on 5 February police handed them to the girls themselves, who hid them in their school textbooks in their bedrooms.
The families only found the letters after the girls left on 17 February. They had not been told that the girl who disappeared in December had gone to Syria to live with Isis.
The disappearance of the girls has led to ructions both in Britain and Turkey. On Friday new video footage emerged of the three British girls who left in February, showing them being told by a middleman to use Syrian passports while changing transport in Turkey.
The mobile phone video, broadcast by the Turkish television channel A Haber, is believed to have been shot by a Syrian who helped them enter the country. He is alleged by Turkey to be an intelligence agent from one of the countries within the US-led coalition against the militant group.
In the video, the three east London teenagers can be seen in part of what is believed to be Turkey, taking their bags out of a vehicle, as a male voice translates for them from Arabic to English. â€œThis car,â€ he tells them at one point, adding: Take the Syrian passport the red one.
Earlier on Friday, Turkeys foreign minister, said a man arrested for allegedly helping the teenagers had been identified as a Syrian national working as an agent for a coalition country. He did not specify which one, but Turkish reports have said it is Canada, which is denied by Ottawa.
Turkeys Dogan news agency said the man had previously applied for asylum in Canada, and that he had helped several other Britons cross the border for a fee between $800 and $1,500 (£550-£1,000), some of whom were travelling with the British girls.