Shortly before Scotland Yard's public appeal for their return that sent shockwaves throughout the country, the three ISIS-bound British schoolgirls were spotted in Turkey waiting for a bus the same day they fled their homes in London. Last seen on Tuesday, Feb. 17, the teenagers are believed to have left for Syria to join the extremist group, prompting counter-terror police to issue an unprecedented public appeal via social media last week imploring the girls to return home.
Based on surveillance camera footage, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase waited at a bus stop in the winter cold for approximately 18 hours on the European side of Istanbul later the same day they fled London. The girls took a bus to Urfa, a city close to the Syrian border, where they are assumed to have been smuggled through the border to Syria and received by ISIS militants. Scotland Yard also said they believed that the girls are now in the troubled Middle Eastern country.
Academically-gifted students at Bethnal Green Academy in London — where they were studying for their GCSEs — the girls reportedly left their homes early Tuesday morning to meet at Gatwick airport and board a Turkish Airlines flight. The footage confirmed their brief stopover in Turkey before their final destination in Syria.
Following reports of the CCTV footage, the U.K.'s senior national coordinator of counterterrorism, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball revealed on BBC news program The Andrew Marr Show that about 60 female Britons — including 18 teenagers — are believed to have similarly traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Ball said:
This is a growing problem and it’s one of real concern. The more everybody involved in travel can be alert and be vigilant and look out for people the better... Some of those women and girls are very carefully prepared for their travel so that they don’t stand out. They take unusual routes and it is very hard to spot them.
Family members of all three girls issued emotional pleas last week begging for their return. Clutching a soft toy that Abase had given to her mother, her father, Abase Hussen, said on BBC News:
The message we have for Amira is to get back home. We miss you. We cannot stop crying. Please think twice. Don't go to Syria. Remember how we love you. Your sister and brother cannot stop crying.
ISIS' overseas recruiting tactics have been shockingly successful, particularly in the West. U.S. officials reported that about 3,400 Westerners have joined the brutal militant group in both Syria and Iraq. Of that total are at least 500 British citizens who have traveled to Syria in a bid to join ISIS' jihadist fight.
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