Students tell families they went to Syria ‘to help’

Nine British medical students feared to have travelled to Syria to work in areas controlled by Islamic State told their families they were going ‘to help, not fight’.

The nine students said they wanted to help the wounded like this man in Syria. Picture: AFP/ Getty
The nine students said they wanted to help the wounded like this man in Syria. Picture: AFP/ Getty

Some of the parents of the five men and four women, aged in their late teens and early 20s, are believed to have travelled to Turkey over the weekend in a bid to get them back.

The students who reportedly flew to Istanbul from Sudan earlier this month, went to the region to help the wounded, a Turkish politician assisting the families said.

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Mehmet Ali Ediboglu said he says he believed the students had crossed into northern Syrian territory controlled by the Islamic State.

The students were born and raised in England, but had been studying medicine in Sudan as their families had wanted them to experience a more Islamic culture, he said.

He said he thought the students had been “cheated, brainwashed”.

He said: “Let’s not forget about the fact that they are doctors; they went there to help, not to fight. So this case is a little bit ­different.”

One of the women informed her family of the trip via the messenger WhatsApp.

Lena Maumoon Abdulqadir reportedly told her relatives: “Don’t worry about us, we’ve reached Turkey and are on our way to volunteer helping wounded Syrian people.”

Her father told a Turkish newspaper he had informed both British and Turkish police of the situation.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are providing consular assistance to the families. We have informed the Turkish police to try and ascertain their whereabouts.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK advises against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq.

“Anyone who does travel to these areas, even for humanitarian reasons, is putting themselves in considerable danger. The best way for the public to help is to donate to or otherwise support UK-registered charities with ongoing relief operations.”

It is understood a decision to prosecute someone who has travelled to the war-torn region would depend on the circumstances and nature of their activity there. Last week, a judge barred five teenage girls who have shown an interest in going to Syria from travelling abroad.

In February, it emerged three London schoolgirls had flown to Turkey and were believed to have crossed the border into Syria. They attended Bethnal Green Academy, the same school as a 15-year-old who went missing in December, and is believed to have joined Islamic State. In Syria yesterday insurgents captured several government airmen after their helicopter crashed in a rebel-held area in the north-west of the country.

The Idlib Media Centre and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the helicopter went down near Jabal al-Zawiya, some six miles north of the town of Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province. The aircraft experienced a technical malfunction and made an emergency crash-landing, ­according to the Observatory.