22 February 2015
Three London schoolgirls who have flown to Turkey are feared to be on their way to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group, Scotland Yard said Friday.
Two of the girls have been described as speakers of English and Bangla. The third speaks English and Amharic, a language spoken in Ethiopia, police said.
The US State Department estimates that 20,000 people from 100 countries have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State. British authorities say 600 of these jihadi volunteers are from the UK.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and a third girl, 15, who is not being named at the request of her family, are believed to have secretly fled London Tuesday afternoon on a flight bound for Turkey.
Shamima is possibly travelling under the name of her 17-year-old sister Aklima Begum, police said.
Described as â€œstraight-A students,â€ the three pupils at Bethnal Green Academy are friends of a fourth girl from the same school who travelled to Syria in December, police said.
They travelled from their homes in east London on Tuesday, February 17, and boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
At risk for recruitmentÂ
Commander Richard Walton, of Scotland Yardâ€™s counter terrorism unit, described the girls as â€œstraight-A studentsâ€ and â€œnormal girls.â€
â€œIf we are able to locate these girls while they are in Turkey, there is a possibility we can bring them home to their families,â€ he said.
Scotland Yard stressed the appeal was not about â€œcriminalising people, it is about preventing tragedies by offering support to the young and vulnerable.â€
Police believe the trio may still be in Turkey as heavy snows have limited travel capacity.
Police said Shamina is 5ft 7in tall, and wearing black thick rimmed glasses, a black hijab, light brown and black leopard print scarf, dark red jumper, black trousers and jacket, carrying a dark blue cylindrical shape holdall with white straps.
Kadiza is 5ft 6in tall, of slim build and wearing black-rimmed glasses, a long black jacket with a hood, grey striped scarf, grey jumper, dark red trousers, carrying a black holdall.
Both are British nationals, speak English with London accents and also speak Bengali.
The third girl is 5ft 6in, of slim build, wearing black thick rimmed glasses, black head scarf, long dark green jacket with fur lined hood, light yellow long sleeved top, black trousers, white trainers carrying a black Nike holdall. She speaks English and Amharic.
The girls left their homes before 8am, giving their families reason to wonder why they would be out for the day, police said.
It is now apparent that they met and travelled to Gatwick airport, whose surveillance cameras have captured their images as they completed pre-flight formalities.
They boarded Turkish Airlines flight TK1966 which left for Istanbul, Turkey, at 12:40pm British local time.
Many female international volunteers for the IS movement seek to become jihadi brides, counter terrorism experts said.
Dr Erin Saltman, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which offers independent expertise in counter-terrorism, said IS propaganda targets young women specifically with the promise of being part of a humanitarian movement.
She said: â€œThey are the wives and mothers of the future jihadists so quite a lot of dedication and time has been put into trying to allure these younger women to come and join in these efforts.
â€œThey are very much restricted to the house and home for the most part. There is strict sharia law in the region.â€
The Scotland Yardâ€™s Walton said: â€œWe are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police.
â€œOur priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.
â€œWe are reaching out to the girls using the Turkish media and social media in the hope that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend hear our messages, hear our concerns for their safety and have the courage to return now, back to their families who are so worried about them.â€
The girlsâ€™ families are reported to be devastated by their teenagersâ€™ decisions, and a sense of sorrow and shock has swept through the girlsâ€™ community.
A fellow Bethnal Green Academy student, identified only as Sadek, said it was â€œreally sadâ€ and urged the girls to return home.
The spokesman for the East London Mosque, Salman Farsi, said the girls had been â€œmisled.â€
Walton said: â€œWe are concerned about the numbers of girls and young women who have or are intending to travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling themselves Islamic State.â€
â€œIt is an extremely dangerous place and we have seen reports of what life is like for them and how restricted their lives become. It is not uncommon for girls or women to be prevented from being allowed out of their houses or if allowed out, only when accompanied by a guardian.
â€œThe choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving their families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return.
â€œIf we are able to locate these girls whilst they are still in Turkey, we have a good possibility of being able to bring them home to their families.â€
In October, three Colorado teen girls were detained in Germany after federal authorities said they were on their way to Syria to join IS.
A few months earlier, certified nurseâ€™s aide Shannon Conley, 19, was stopped at Denver Airport on her way to Syria to marry an IS fighter she met online. A US federal court later sentenced her to four years in prison.
Last year, twin teenage sisters, Zahra and Salma Halane, disappeared from their home in Manchester and flew to Istanbul, bound for Syria.
It is thought the girls, who were just 16 at the time and were academic high fliers, followed their older brother who is believed to be a jihadist fighter in the region.
The pair, who had dreamed of pursuing medical careers, later became jihadi brides, but were widowed when both their husbands were killed fighting for IS.
Earlier this month, one of the sisters posted images from Syria showing her completing self-defence training with AK47s and handguns.
In December, it was revealed that a 15-year-old girl had been prevented from joining IS after police dramatically stopped her flight on the runway at Heathrow.
The teenager, from Tower Hamlets, London, had secretly saved up money for her flight to Turkey, without her parentsâ€™ knowledge in the hope of travelling on to Syria.
But counter-terrorism officers, who had been tipped over about her plans, raced to the airport and stopped her plane which had already begun taxiing on to the runway.