A SENIOR counter-terrorism commander warned last night of the dangers in the growing trend for young British girls to travel to Syria to become the “jihadi brides” of Islamic State (IS) fighters.
Commander Richard Walton, the head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terror unit, raised concerns as it emerged that three missing schoolgirls who fled the UK during their half-term break are believed to be on their way to join Islamic militants waging war in Syria.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an unnamed 15-year-old, all from east London, flew to Istanbul, in Turkey, from Gatwick Airport on Tuesday without leaving any messages for family or friends. Mr Walton said the force was becoming “increasingly concerned” by a growing trend of young girls showing an interest in or an intent to join IS, an organisation notorious for its barbaric treatment of hostages and oppression of women.
He added: “We are concerned about the numbers of girls and young women who have, or are intending to, travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling themselves Islamic State.
“It is an extremely dangerous place and we have seen reports of what life is like for them and how restricted their lives become.
“It is not uncommon for girls or women to be prevented from being allowed out of their houses or, if allowed out, only when accompanied by a guardian.
“The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving their families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return.”
It is understood that up to 60 so-called “jihadi brides” from Britain have travelled to Syria to marry IS militants, usually after making contact with extremists online.
They include Aqsa Mahmood, a 20-year-old student from Glasgow, who married an IS fighter in Aleppo last year then posted messages on social media encouraging fellow Muslims to carry out terrorist attacks in the UK.
Yesterday Scotland Yard detectives urgently appealed for information about the missing girls, who are pupils at the Bethnal Green Academy school and were described as “straight-A students”.
Mr Walton said the runaways are good friends with a 15-year-old girl who travelled to Syria in December. He added that the teenagers’ families were “devastated” but there was a “good chance” the girls were still in Turkey.
He said: “We are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police. Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.
“We are reaching out to the girls using the Turkish media and social media in the hope that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend hear our messages, hear our concerns for their safety and have the courage to return now, back to their families who are so worried about them.
“If we are able to locate these girls whilst they are still in Turkey we have a good possibility of being able to bring them home to their families.”
The London schoolgirls fit the profile of jihadi brides, most of whom are well-educated and middle class. Aqsa Mahmood, who went to private school, was described by her parents as a “sweet, peaceful, intelligent child” until she became involved in radical Muslim chat forums. She dropped out of a course in diagnostic radiography at Glasgow Caledonia University last November to travel to Syria.
Among the other young women who have been lured to join the IS campaign are Yusra Hussein, 15, from Bristol, and Zahra and Salma Halane, dubbed the “terror twins”, from Manchester who are thought to be married to IS fighters.
Yesterday the Met police issued descriptions of the missing London schoolgirls. Shamima is described as approximately 5ft 7in, and was wearing black thick rimmed glasses, a black hijab, light brown and black leopard print scarf, dark red jumper, black trousers and jacket. Kadiza is described as 5ft 6in and of slim build. She was wearing black rimmed glasses, a long black jacket with a hood, grey striped scarf, grey jumper, dark red trousers, carrying a black holdall.
The third missing girl, who is not being named, is described as 5ft 6in and of slim build, wearing black thick-rimmed glasses, black head scarf, long dark green jacket with fur lined hood, light yellow long sleeved top, black trousers, white trainers and was carrying a black Nike holdall. All three are believed to be carrying mobile phones. The girls left their homes before 8am on Tuesday providing their families with “plausible” reasons for why they would be out for the day.
They boarded a Turkish Airlines flight, TK1966, which departed at 12:40pm to Istanbul, Turkey, and landed at 6:40pm local time. Turkish Airlines did not notify police that the girls were on board the flight.
Shamima and the third girl were reported missing to police by their families later that evening. Kadiza was reported missing by her family on Wednesday morning.
Last night Salman Farsi, spokesman for the East London Mosque, said the girls had been “misled”. He said: “I do not know what was told to them but if they do go to Syria, it is a war zone and there are serious ramifications for going in to a war zone. Some of the things we have seen happening in Syria are not very nice. They have been manipulated.”
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