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Sunday 24 September 2017

Parents of three runaway British 'jihadi' brides beg them to come home

Three British girls who ran away from home to join Islamic State have been urged to come home by their families as fears grow for their safety

The girls, all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, on CCTV at Gatwick Airport Photo: Met Police
The girls, all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, on CCTV at Gatwick Airport Photo: Met Police

Patrick Sawer

THE police hunt for three British 'jihadi brides’ who ran away from home to join Islamic State fighters has intensified in a bid to stop them crossing the Turkish border into Syria.

The three students from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, were at the centre of an increasingly desperate international hunt to find them before they managed to enter territory controlled by fighters from IS, also known as Isil.

The family of one of the girls urged Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16 and an unnamed, 15-year-old, to come back home, warning on Saturday that their lives would be in danger in Syria.

In a statement Shamima's family said: "We miss you terribly and are extremely worried about you. Please, if you hear this message, get in touch and let us know you are safe. We want you home with us. You belong at home with us.

"Syria is a dangerous place and we don't want you to go there. Get in touch with the police and they will help to bring you home. You are not in any trouble."

They urged her not to join Isil, stating: "We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria. You can help from home, you don't have to put yourself in danger. Please don't cross the border. Please come home to us. Our Mum needs you home and is really worried. We are not mad at you, we love you."

Kadiza's family also begged their daughter to return home, saying they missed her terribly: "Our dearest Kadiza and the two friends accompanying you. We, together, sincerely pray and hope this message reaches you. We pray that no harm comes to you, and you are all safe and in good health.

"In your absence, we, as a family, are feeling completely distressed and cannot make sense of why you left home."

The family added that they were growing increasingly concerned over Kadiza's safety, stating: "We are sending you our heartfelt love, and continue to pray that you along with your friends safely return to us, or at least contact us to let us know you are okay.

"We all love you dearly and the last four days have been a complete nightmare not knowing where you are and how you are keeping. We would like to emphasise that we are not angry with you and you have not done anything wrong. We just want you all to return home, safe and sound.

"We miss you terribly, especially Mum, and things have not been the same without you."

An Isil source in Istanbul had earlier boasted that the three girls would soon be in a position to join hundreds of its fighters in Syria, where they are waging a campaign of terror against both the local population and Western targets.

He said: “They are in Istanbul and are trying to reach a town on the Turkish border to cross into Syria. There is someone coordinating with them. A smuggler. They can’t move by themselves.”

The three - who are described as 'grade A’ pupils – left their homes in Tower Hamlets at 8am last Tuesday, travelling to Gatwick airport together, where they boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, landing at 6.40pm local time.

To the apparent dismay of Scotland Yard neither Turkish Airlines, nor the UK Border Force reported that the girls were intending to travel unaccompanied to the region, despite it being a well-worn route to Syria. Shamima is thought have travelled with her 17-year-old sister Aklima’s passport .

Commander Richard Walton, of the met’s counter-terrorism command, said: “On this particular occasion we weren’t notified that these girls were travelling. If we had been notified then we might have been able to intervene.”

MPs have now called for an inquiry into the effectiveness of border controls in stopping British youngsters travelling to the region with the intention of joining IS.

Counter-terror experts estimate that as many as 50 young Muslim women and girls have made the journey from Britain to Syria and it emerged on Friday that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend were close to a 15-year-old girls from their school who travelled to Syria last December.

The girls’ MP, Rushanara Ali, who represents Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “We need the government to look at the arrange, arrangements at border control and whether they are appropriate for unaccompanied minors on these routes.”

Police questioned the three when their friend travelled to Syria, but they were not kept under watch by counter-terrorism officers as they were not thought to be at immediate risk. A Yard source said on Saturday: “There was nothing to suggest at the time that the girls themselves were at risk and indeed their disappearance has come as a great surprise, not least to their own families.”

However it has emerged that the older sister of one of the girls recently approached East London Mosque over her concerns about her behaviour.

Salman Farsi, spokesman for the mosque, said: “I told her that if you need anything from us just let us know and she said that all they need is our prayers and she started crying – that really upset me. I can empathise with them. The community here is quite close and this feels quite close to home.”

Mr Farsi said he did not know who or what had persuaded the girls to flee Britain but that they had clearly been misled and manipulated.

Worshippers at the mosque’s Friday prayers were urged to come forward with information that could help police trace three schoolgirls.

The Turkish intelligence source are understood to be hunting for the girls in Istanbul, along with local police assisted by the British police and security services, but their task has been made harder by the presence of a network of IS 'representatives’ and sympathisers able to hide the three in the sprawling city until an opportunity presents itself to travel to the border.

It remains unclear how the girls became radicalised enough to take the step of travelling to Turkey with the intention of joining what they regard as their “brothers and sisters” in IS.

However on February 15 – two days before boarding their flight – Shamima used the social media site twitter to get in touch with 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, a privately educated woman from Glasgow who joined IS and married one of its fighters.

Mahmood has previously urged British Muslim girls to join her in Syria. Last November Mahmood wrote on twitter: sisters, if I can help you in any way pls kik [contact me on a social media site] me inshallah”.

Last night Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour member of the home affairs committee said more needed to be done urgently to dissuade young Muslims from “the illusion” that they are helping their religion by joining Isil.

Ms Qureshi told the Telegraph: “There has to be more discussion in class, in assemblies, at home, about the reality of groups like Isil and al qaeda. Some young people are under the impression that by joining g Isil they are helping their brothers an sisters who are fighting western intervention in Muslim countries. it needs to be explained to them that not only are Isil and AQ not following the Koran and are not helping Islam, but that the majority of their victims are in facet innocent Muslims.”

Police are expected to return to return to Bethnal Green Academy in the next few days in the hope of unearthing further clues as the intentions of the three girls and dissuade any of their fellow pupils who may be thinking of making a similar journey.

The school, which says it expects its pupils to be “active citizens and make a positive contribution to the local, national and global community”, is now likely to review the measures it has already put in place to combat radicalisation to see if they can be strengthened.

David Cameron urged schools to recognise their role in the “fight against Islamist extremist terror”.

Speaking on Saturday in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Mr Cameron said: “It is deeply concerning and obviously our authorities will do everything we can to help these girls. But it does make a broader point which is the fight against Islamist extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control.

“It needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognise they have a role to play. We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult.”

Commander Walton, said: “We are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police. Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.

“We 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.”

Tal Abyad is an Isil controlled town and the Turkish town on the other side of the border, Sanliurfa, has long been known to have an Isil presence. Local residents regularly report seeing members of the jihadist group openly walking the streets and holding meetings in the town’s cafes.

It is believed that Hayat Boumeddiene, the girlfriend of the Charlie Hebdo attacker Amedy Coulibaly, used the same route to flee to Syria in the days before the Paris attacks.

Telegraph.co.uk

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