Turkey criticizes Britain over missing schoolgirls
ISTANBUL - Reuters
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 on February 22, 2015. REUTERS PhotoTurkey has criticized Britain for taking too long to inform it about three London schoolgirls who travelled to Turkey last week, possibly en route to join Islamist militants in Syria.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said he hoped the girls would be found, but that it would be Britain, not Turkey, to blame if they were not.
“It is an condemnable act for Britain to let three girls, who have previously faced allegations, come to Istanbul from Heathrow Airport and then let us know three days later. They haven’t taken the necessary measures,” Arınç told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
The three London schoolgirls arrived at Istanbul airport on Feb. 17 and British authorities, concerned that they were travelling to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, informed Ankara on Feb. 20, Arınç said.
“We are continuing search operations intensively. Of course, Turkey doesn’t have any fault in this case,” he said.
Turkey was able to do little to track the movements of three people who had entered as tourists, the deputy prime minister stressed.
“The search is ongoing. It would be great if we could find them. But if we can’t, it is not us who will be responsible, but the British,” he said.
Thousands of foreigners from more than 80 countries have joined the ranks of ISIL and other radical groups in Syria and Iraq, many crossing through Turkey.
Turkey has said it needs more detailed and faster information from Western intelligence agencies to intercept them.
“First, you should follow this and prevent them from traveling abroad. If you couldn’t stop them, then you should inform us and tell ‘detain, deport or follow these people with these passport numbers,’” Arınç added.
“Turkey can never be held responsible for wherever people who came here with a tourist passport, without any barriers or notices, go. We don’t have any mechanism to question tourists’ intentions and read their minds,” he also said.
The girls were last seen Feb. 17 at their home addresses in east London.They left their homes and lied to their families about where they would be out for the day. The girls then travelled to Gatwick airport and boarded a Turkish Airlines flight that departed for Istanbul.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Feb. 23 said he was “horrified by the way that British teenagers appear to have been radicalized and duped by this poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism while at home on the internet in their bedrooms.
“They appear to have been induced to join a terrorist group that carries out the most hideous violence and believes girls should be married at nine and women should not leave the home,” he told parliament.
Around 500 British nationals are believed to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ISIL group.
Sultana and Begum are British nationals, while Abase is a German citizen.
The three were all friends with another student at the school who left for Syria in December, one of some 550 Western women believed to have gone to Syria.