Missing schoolgirls: Police quizzed London teenagers two months before they travelled to Turkey 'to join Isis in Syria'

Officers spoke to Shemima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and the third girl after their friend ran away to Syria

The Metropolitan Police have admitted that they spoke to three missing London schoolgirls months before they travelled to Turkey, feared to be on their way to Syria to join the Islamist militant group Isis.

Shemima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and another unnamed 15-year-old girl – all students at Bethnal Green Academy - flew to Turkey from London Gatwick on Tuesday.

Police confirmed in a briefing yesterday that they spoke to the girls in December after their friend – another 15-year-old girl – ran away to Syria, but said the talks were part of a "routine inquiry".

In a statement to "clarify" reports that the girls were "on police radars", they added: "There was nothing to suggest at the time that the girls themselves were at risk and indeed their disappearance has come as a great surprise, not least to their own families."

A parent governor at the girls' school has also spoken out, claiming that there is "absolutely not" any radicalisation at Bethnal Green Academy.

He told the BBC: "I'm 100 per cent confident – with the head and the senior leadership team and the whole school – that we've done everything to put in measures that safeguard all the children that attend the school.

"I still don't believe that they are going anywhere other than a holiday – because this is how they were dressed and this is how they looked and this is how they packed," he added.

 

But other members of the Muslim community don’t seem to share his confidence on the ability to shield young people from the threat fundamentalist ideology.

Local MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, said there was "deep concern" at the way young people were being radicalised.

This morning, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "The community is very concerned. There is shock in what's just happened. This is a close-knit community.

"One of the things that we have got to do as a country is make sure that schools and teachers and parents who are concerned get advice and help.

"We need to make sure that we counter these ideologies. This is like grooming, this is child exploitation, and in the worst-case scenario they are potentially being used as weapons of war in those countries."

Mussurut Zia, general secretary of the Muslim Women's Network UK, said she had "grave concerns" for the girls, warning that it would be unlikely they could return home, should they join the terrorist organisation.

She told BBC Breakfast: "Not for a moment do I believe the girls know what they're getting into. I don't think they will be told the true reality.

"I don't think they will be actually fighting on the front line... I think they will be used. Jihadi brides is a notion that's been expressed before - there's no root in that in religion - but quite possibly that is something they would be used for.

"I don't think there is any return for them. I don't see how they would be able to get back."

The head of counter-terrorism with the Metropolitan Police, Richard Walton, said the force is becoming increasingly concerned by a growing trend of young girls showing interest in joining Isis (also know as Islamic State), an organisation infamous for its cruel treatment of hostages and oppression of women.

Police have been working with the families and overseas authorities since they were reported missing in an attempt to return the girls home to their families.

And they believe there is still a chance they can return the girls home to safety – if they’ve not yet crossed the border to Syria.

Mr Walton added: "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.

"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."

Police are now appealing for information on the three girls, who boarded a Turkish Airlines flight, TK1966, which departed at 12.40 to Istanbul, Turkey and landed at 6.40pm local time.

Shamima is around 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, and carrying a dark blue cylindrical shape holdall with white straps.

She is a British national of Bangladeshi heritage and speaks English with a London accent. She also speaks Bengali.

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, and carrying a black holdall.

She is also a British national of Bangladeshi heritage and speaks English with a London accent and also speaks Bengali.

The third missing girl, who is not being named, is described as 5ft 6in and of slim build, wearing black thick rimmed glasses, a black head scarf, a long dark green jacket with fur-lined hood, light yellow long-sleeved top, black trousers, white trainers, and carrying a black Nike holdall. She speaks English.