Met police officers travel to Turkey as search for schoolgirls who fled to Syria continues
Metropolitan Police officers are in Turkey as the search continues for three missing schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join Islamic State.
Relatives of Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-old Amira Abase, have issued heartfelt pleas for the youngsters to come home amid fears they may have been recruited by jihadists online.
The girls, who were "straight A students" at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, boarded a flight from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul in Turkey on Tuesday.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said its officers were in Turkey but refused to confirm whether they were involved in the search for the girls.
"Officers are working closely with the Turkish authorities who are providing a great deal of assistance and support to our investigation," he said.
Questions have been raised about contact the girls may have had with extremists after a tweet, sent from a Twitter account under the name Shamima Begum, was sent to Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow for Syria to be a "jihadi bride" in 2013.
Shamima's older sister Renu Begum, 27, said any attempt by extremists to prey on the "vulnerable" youngsters was "cruel" and "evil".
In a statement released through their lawyer Aamer Anwar, Ms Mahmood's family said they were "full of horror and anger" that she may have had a role to play in "the recruitment of these young girls to Isis".
Speaking at Scotland Yard's headquarters, Ms Begum said her "baby" sister Shamima did not show any signs she was planning to travel abroad and broke down in tears as she urged her to return home.
Shamima was last seen by her mother on Tuesday morning as she boarded a bus after claiming she was going to extra classes at school.
Clutching her missing sister's pyjamas, Ms Begum 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."
Ms Begum said she hoped her sister had gone with the intention of bringing back another 15-year-old girl from Bethnal Green Academy who went to Syria in December.
"She's a sensible girl," she said. "We're hoping she wouldn't do anything that would put her in any danger.
"It's left a big hole in the house.
"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.
"She's a clever girl but she's only young and young minds can easily be swayed."
She added: "To convince young children, young girls who are highly intelligent ... at that age, who are vulnerable, it's just wrong. It's a really evil thing to do. You're breaking up entire families."
"They're preying on young innocent girls and it's not right."
Abase Hussen, 47, said his family had "not stopped crying" since the disappearance of his daughter Amira, who claimed she was going to a wedding on the day she went missing.
Mr Hussen 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 sent a text on the morning of the day she went missing which said "dad the place is a little bit far. I pray my midday prayer and I get back".
"She didn't come home," he added.
"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.
"What she's doing is completely nonsense. Remember how we love you. Your sister and brother cannot stop crying."
Mr Hussen said his daughter had never spoken about an interest in jihad with him but "maybe with friends".
"She doesn't dare discuss something like this with us," he added. "She knows what the answer would be."
Mr Hussen said his wife had a "broken heart".
"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."
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."
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who was addressing business and church leaders on community cohesion in Birmingham today, said the girls' families faced "a nightmare situation".
"I really feel for the families, that is just a nightmare situation to find for them," he said.
"We pray for the girls and hope that they come back quickly."
He added: "It's a deception, isn't it - and the families are absolutely devastated by it."
The Archbishop also said churches had a role to play in helping battle radicalisation in Britain's Muslim communities.
"The churches deal with radicalisation by giving transparent, hospitable, gracious love to those communities and particularly supporting those in the communities who are seeking to deal with the radicalisation," he said.
"It's a really tough call and we have to be alongside them on this."