Come home, families beg UK schoolgirls believed to have entered Syria via Turkey
LONDON - Agence France-Presse/ReutersThe families of three British schoolgirls feared to be travelling to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria after flying to Istanbul issued emotional appeals for them to come home Feb. 21.
Close friends Kadiza Sultana, 17, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase left their homes Feb. 17 and flew to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from London’s Gatwick airport. Turkey is a key entry point for those seeking to travel to Syria.
Police believe the three girls – all of whom are academic high achievers – were following the example of a friend who fled to join ISIL jihadists in December 2014. Police said they were working with Turkish authorities to try to find the girls and bring them home.
“We still think there’s a possibility they’re in Turkey and that’s why we’re having the appeal,” Richard Walton from London police’s counter terrorism command told reporters on Feb. 19.
Turkish Airlines declined to say whether the girls had travelled on one of its flights. A spokesman for the airline said in an emailed statement that apart from checking visas the company was not responsible for dealing with pre-flight security issues.
British media reported that the girls had been interviewed by police about where their friend had gone but were not considered at risk of leaving the country themselves.
Abase’s family agreed that she could be identified for the first time Feb. 21 in the hope of securing her safe return.
“You are strong, smart, beautiful and we are hoping you will make the right decision,” they said in a statement issued by police. “Please return home.”
Sultana’s family described how they were feeling “completely distressed” and that her departure had been “a complete nightmare.”
“We miss you terribly, especially Mum, and things have not been the same without you,” they said.
Begum’s family added that Syria was “a dangerous place and we don’t want you to go there.”
“We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria,” the family said. “You can help from home, you don’t have to put yourself in danger.”
Counter-terrorism experts estimate that around 50 women have travelled from Britain to Syria to join the ISIL group, which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.