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.
In pictures: Anti-Isis protests in Jordan
In pictures: Anti-Isis protests in Jordan
1/15 Amman, Jordan
Members of Jordan's Al Assaf tribe burn a ''Wanted Dead'' poster of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi at a rally
2/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanian protesters carry an effigy of leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during a march after Friday prayers in downtown Amman
3/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanian Queen Rania (C) holds a placard during a demonstration to express solidarity with the pilot murdered by the Islamic State
4/15 Amman, Jordan
A protester dressed in a Jordanian flag joins others as they hold up pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah and Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, while chanting slogans during a march against Islamic State
5/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians hold banners shouting slogans during a demonstration to express their solidarity with the pilot murdered by the Islamic State
6/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians carry banners and pictures of executed Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kassasbeh while shouting slogans against the group calling themselves the Islamic State, during a march after noon pray in downtown Amman
7/15 Amman, Jordan
Protesters hold up pictures of Jordan's King Abdullah and pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh as they chant slogans during a rally in Amman to show their loyalty to the King and against the Islamic State
8/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians chant slogans to show their support for the government against terror during a rally
9/15 Amman, Jordan
Jawdat al-Kaseasbeh, a brother of slain Jordanians pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, reacts to people gathering to show their support for the government against terror during a rally
10/15 Amman, Jordan
A Jordanian protester kisses a poster bearing the image of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh during a rally to show their loyalty to King Abdullah and against the Islamic State
11/15 Amman, Jordan
A Jordanian shouts slogans during a rally against the Islamic state group and in reaction to the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh by the group's militants
12/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians carry pictures of pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh at a protest against Islamic State
13/15 Amman, Jordan
Supporters and family members of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh express their anger at his murder at the tribal gathering chamber in Amman, Jordan
14/15 Aye Village, Karak, Jordan
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II (L), embracing Safi al-Kassasbeh (R), the father of the recently executed Jordanian pilot
15/15 Aye Village, Karak, Jordan
Jordan's Queen Rania offers her condolences to the family of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, at their family home of Muath
REUTERS/Petra News Agency
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.Reuse content