3 ISIS-Bound London Schoolgirls Fled The U.K. And Boarded A Plane To Turkey & Syria
Counter-terror police in Britain issued a frantic appeal on Friday looking for three London schoolgirls who possibly fled to join ISIS in Syria, in what seems like yet another display of the extremist group's success in recruiting Western foreigners. According to a police press statement, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an unidentified 15-year-old girl left their homes in East London early Tuesday morning, converged at Gatwick airport in London and boarded a Turkish Airlines flight.
The girls are believed to have planned to leave for Syria via Turkey after getting in touch with a female ISIS member who allegedly traveled from Britain to the troubled country to marry an ISIS jihadist in November.
In an unprecedented public appeal, Scotland Yard's Counter-Terrorism Commander Richard Walton said that they were taking pains to contact the teenagers on social media:
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.
The girls, described as academically-gifted students at East London's Bethnal Green Academy, are also friends with another 15-year-old British female who joined the militant group in December, reported The Guardian. Police had interviewed them regarding the whereabouts of their friend at the time, but did not consider them at risk of feeling the country to join ISIS themselves.
ABC News reported that U.S. Senior Advisor for Foreign Fighters Ambassador Thomas Krajeski told reporters at a Friday press briefing that young girls fleeing to Syria and Iraq were as urgent a concern as those traveling to join the Islamists' fight. Krajeski said:
Fighters include people not only picking up a gun, but also going to support Islamists, in some way, including young women who have been attracted to the fight for various reasons and in some cases children.
Walton also expressed the authorities' concern over reports of ISIS' atrocious treatment of women, cautioning their lack of freedom once under the grip of the barbaric extremist group:
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 [ISIS], leaving their families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return.
Image: Screenshot/ABC News; Getty Images (2), Scotland Yard