Thursday 21 November 2019

UK police defend actions over teenage girls who flew to Syria

British teenage girls Shamima Begun, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana (left to right), walk through security at Gatwick airport before they boarded a flight to Turkey
British teenage girls Shamima Begun, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana (left to right), walk through security at Gatwick airport before they boarded a flight to Turkey
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 (Metropolitan Police/PA Wire)

Estelle Shirbon

British police have denied accusations they had failed to pass on crucial information that could have allowed families to stop three teenage girls from travelling to Syria to join Islamic State militants.

Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana (16), who all attended the same London school, were reported missing last month.

They flew to Turkey that day and police believe they subsequently made their way to Syria.

Dozens of Britons, mostly young men but also some young women, have joined Islamic State, causing much angst back home about how they were being radicalised and what could be done to stop them.

Read More: Missing Syria schoolgirls: Who knew what? Turkey hits back at Britain by claiming it was warned 'three days too late'

Police officers had spoken to the girls in the weeks preceding their departure as part of an investigation into the disappearance of one of their school friends, an unnamed 15-year-old girl, who had left for Syria last December.

"The teenagers were all being cooperative, they were all being treated as potential witnesses and there was nothing whatsoever to indicate that they themselves were planning to travel to Syria," the police said in a statement.

Several relatives of the girls have complained to British media in the past two days that they had not been told about the first girl who had gone to Syria.

Read More: Tearful families of missing Isil girls beg them to return

"The police neglected us, the school neglected us. It would have definitely alarmed me ... 100 pc I would have stopped her. They did not warn us, they did not contact us at all," Hussen Abase, father of Amira, told the Guardian newspaper.

Relatives complained in particular that police had handed the girls letters, intended for their parents, requesting that the girls continue to cooperate with the investigation into their friend's departure for Syria.

Instead of handing them to their parents, the three girls hid the letters in school textbooks. The letters were found after they had absconded.

Read More: Missing schoolgirls taken from Turkey into Syria by people smugglers four days ago

"With the benefit of hindsight, we acknowledge that the letters could have been delivered direct to the parents. However, the parents were already aware... that Girl 1 had travelled to Syria," the police said.

They said that after an officer spoke to the girls at their school, the deputy head teacher contacted their families on police advice to let them know what was going on.

Investigations into the disappearance of all four girls are continuing.


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