THREE schoolgirls – feared to have fled their homes in London to join Islamic State (IS) fighters after at least one of them was in contact with a Scottish “jihadi bride” – have crossed into Syria from Turkey, police believe.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-old Amira Abase sparked a police hunt after flying to Istanbul from Gatwick Airport last Tuesday.
Last night, Scotland Yard said counter-terrorism officers leading the investigation “now have reason to believe that they are no longer in Turkey and have crossed into Syria”.
“Officers continue to work closely with the Turkish authorities on this investigation,” a spokesman added.
Earlier British police denied claims they failed to contact Turkish authorities about the three girls, who are thought to be travelling to Syria to marry IS jihadists.
Turkish deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc told reporters British officials would be held accountable should the search prove fruitless because of a three-day delay in alerting her government. But yesterday Scotland Yard said officers began working with Turkish authorities the day after the first two teenagers were reported missing a week ago.
A public appeal for information about the missing girls was launched by police on Friday, three days after the girls boarded their flight to Turkey.
Mr Arinc criticised the British police for not taking “necessary measures”.
He said: “It is a condemnable act for Britain to let three girls … come to Istanbul and then let us know three days later. They haven’t taken the necessary measures. The search is ongoing. It would be great if we can find them. But if we can’t, it is not us who will be responsible, but the British.”
Earlier Prime Minister David Cameron urged airlines and internet companies to do more to prevent radicalised British teenagers travelling to the Middle East.
The girls’ head teacher has also said he had been “shocked and saddened” by their disappearance. However, he said police had not found any evidence that they were radicalised at school.
Mark Keary, principal of Bethnal Green Academy in east London, said police spoke to the girls after another student disappeared in December and indicated there was no evidence that they were at risk of being radicalised or absconding. He also said access to social media at the school was “strictly regulated”.
A tweet sent from a Twitter account under Shamima’s name was sent to Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow for Syria to be a “jihadi bride” in 2013.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We work very closely with the Turkish authorities on a whole series of security measures. We are going to continue to do so.
“It is a good, strong, constructive relationship. We are working with them on this case.
“We are going to keep working very closely with the Turkish authorities on what is a shared challenge.”
Relatives of the three schoolgirls have made emotional pleas for them to come home.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS