Friday 15 December 2017

Emotional pleas made for runaway schoolgirls to return from Syria

By David Mercer

The father of one of three schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join Islamic State said her family "cannot stop crying" as he appealed for her to return home.

Abase Hussen, 47, said his daughter Amira Abase told him she was going to a wedding on the morning she travelled to Gatwick airport to fly to Turkey, and had been behaving "in a normal way".

"She said 'daddy, I'm in a hurry'," he said.

"There was no sign to suspect her at all."

Speaking at Scotland Yard's headquarters, Mr Abase said his daughter had not spoken about Syria or politics with her family but he did not know if she had discussions with her friends.

He said the family had asked her about a fellow pupil at Bethnal Green Academy in east London who fled to Syria in December.

Handout still taken from CCTV issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) 15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana,16 and Shamima Begum,15 at Gatwick airport, before they caught their flight to Turkey on Tuesday. Photo: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
Handout still taken from CCTV issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) 15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana,16 and Shamima Begum,15 at Gatwick airport, before they caught their flight to Turkey on Tuesday. Photo: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
British teenage girls Shamima Begun, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana (L-R) walk through security at Gatwick airport before they boarded a flight to Turkey on February 17, 2015, in this combination picture made from handout still images taken from CCTV and released by the Metropolitan Police. REUTERS/Metropolitan Police/Handout
Undated handout comp of photos issued by the Metropolitan Police of (left to right) Kadiza Sultana 16, Amira Abase 15 and Shamima Begum 15, they are feared to have travelled to Syria via Turkey
Abase Hussen, father of Amira Abase, 15, who had fled to Syria. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire
Abase Hussen, father of Amira Abase, 15, who has fled to Syria, holds a bear that Amira gave her mother. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire

"She said, 'I don't know dad, maybe her father knows. I'm sad for that little girl', she always said."

Mr Abase said his daughter, 15, sent a text between 10am and 11am on Tuesday.

"She said, 'dad the place is a little bit far. I pray my midday pray and I get back'. She didn't come home," he said.

Mr Abase said the family reported her missing at about midnight on Tuesday.

"It's completely different now," he said.

"We are depressed, and it's very stressful. The message we have for Amira is to get back home. We miss you. We cannot stop crying. Please think twice. Don't go to Syria."

Mr Abase said Amira's younger brother and sister "cannot stop crying".

He added: "What she's doing is completely nonsense. Remember how we love you. Your sister and brother cannot stop crying."

Mr Abase said his daughter had never spoken about an interest in jihad with him but "maybe with friends".

He added: "She doesn't dare discuss something like this with us. She knows what the answer would be."

The famiiles of Amira Abase and Shamima Begum - who are believed to have fled to Syria with Kadiza Sultana - after being interviewed by the media at New Scotland Yard, central London. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire
The famiiles of Amira Abase and Shamima Begum - who are believed to have fled to Syria with Kadiza Sultana - after being interviewed by the media at New Scotland Yard, central London. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire

Mr Abase said his wife has a "broken heart" and is "sick".

"If anyone doesn't have hope, life would be miserable," he said. "We don't despair. We struggle. It's stressful. We hope, of course."

Mr Abase clutched a teddy bear dressed in a Chelsea shirt with the words "number one mum" on its foot which Amira gave to her mother on Mother's Day.

He said his daughter "loved Chelsea very much".

Police are urgently trying to trace Amira and her friends Shamima Begum, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16.

Their families have also appealed for them to come home.

The girls, who are all from east London and pupils at Bethnal Green Academy, have been described as "straight A students".

Scotland Yard revealed the girls were previously spoken to by officers investigating the disappearance of the other 15-year-old girl to Syria in December.

But there was "nothing to suggest at the time" that the trio were at risk and their disappearance has "come as a great surprise, not least to their own families", a spokesman said.

The girls left their homes before 8am on Tuesday providing their families with "plausible" reasons as to why they would be out for the day, police said.

They boarded a Turkish Airlines flight, TK1966, which departed at 12.40pm to Istanbul and landed at 6.40pm local time.

Mr Abase posed for a photograph with Shamima's relatives at New Scotland Yard in London as they urged the girls to come home.

Shamima's older sister Renu Begum, 27, said their mother last saw her on Tuesday morning as she got on a bus after claiming she had extra classes at school.

"She was just our baby, she was just herself," she said.

Ms Begum said her sister did not leave any messages and there was "nothing unusual about her behaviour".

Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, who had fled to Syria, holds her sister's photo. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire
Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, who had fled to Syria, holds her sister's photo. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire
Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, who fled to Syria, holds her sister's photo. Photo: Laura Lean/PA Wire

She said she hopes the girls travelled to "talk some sense" into their friend who went to Syria in December.

"She was upset about her friend leaving," she went on. "She knew it was a silly thing to do.

"We're hoping she hasn't been influenced in any way to do anything out of the ordinary."

Ms Begum said the whole family are upset about events in Syria but there is "no indication it affected her so badly".

She said: "We love her, she's our baby.

"She's a sensible girl. We're hoping she wouldn't do anything that would put her in any danger.

"We want her and her friends to be safe. We want them to come home."

Ms Begum said her mother, who shares a bed with Shamima, is "not doing well".

"It's left a big hole in the house," she said.

"Her family love her more than anybody else in this world can. If anyone is telling her they're going to love her more than us, they're wrong."

Ms Begum said the girls are "young" and "vulnerable".

Describing Shamima, she said: "She's friendly, she's kind, she's really intelligent. She's got an answer for everything.

"She's a clever girl but she's only young and young minds can easily be swayed."

After Shamima's friend fled to Syria in December, Ms Begum said she asked her sister: "You wouldn't do anything stupid like that would you?"

Shamima said she would not because she had her family's support, unlike her missing friend, Ms Begum added.

Shamima's sister said if anyone tried to persuade the girls to travel to Syria, "it's a really cruel and evil thing to do".

She added: "To convince young children, young girls who are highly intelligent - my little sister is an A-star student - to convince such young girls at that age, who are vulnerable, it's just wrong. It's a really evil thing to do. You're breaking up entire families."

Ms Begum went on: "They're preying on young innocent girls and it's not right."

She broke down in tears as she revealed she was holding her missing sister's pyjamas, and said: "Please come home. Mum needs you more than anything in the world. You're our baby. We just want you home. We want you safe.

"We're just holding on to hope that she hasn't gone to do anything stupid, that she's gone to get her friend because it's in her kind nature to do something like that."

Reading a message to Kadiza, her older sister Halima Khanom said: "We want you to know that we all miss you and we love you.

"Everyone is hurting because we don't know if you are safe, especially mum.

"Find the courage in your heart to contact us and let us know how you are and if you are okay. That is all we ask."

Press Association

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