Relatives of the British schoolgirls believed to have gone to join Islamic State in Syria have issued emotional pleas for them to come home.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 – all described as “straight-A students” at Bethnal Green Academy in London – flew to Istanbul in Turkey from Gatwick airport on Tuesday. It is feared they had plans to travel across the border into war-torn Syria, although police said there was a “good chance” they were still in Turkey.
The Independent on Sunday understands that Turkish police and British counter-terrorism officers are focusing their search on two suburbs of Istanbul where the girls may still be waiting for transport to the Syrian border.
In a message to Shamima Begum, her family said: “We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria. You can help from home. You don’t have to put yourself in danger. Please don’t cross the border. Please come home to us. Our mum needs you home and is really worried. We are not mad at you. We love you.”
Family members said they missed her “terribly” and were “extremely worried”. “You belong at home with us,” they said. “Syria is a dangerous place and we don’t want you to go there. Get in touch with the police and they will help to bring you home. You are not in any trouble.”
The family of “our dearest Kadiza” said: “In your absence, we, as a family, are feeling completely distressed and cannot make sense of why you left home … we all love you dearly and the last four days have been a complete nightmare not knowing where you are and how you are keeping.
“We would like to emphasise that we are not angry with you and you have not done anything wrong. We just want you all to return home, safe and sound.”
Amira Abase was named by Scotland Yard for the first time last night. Her family said in an appeal: “All we are hoping for is you to come home safe.” The Turkish Jandarma, which combats terrorism and insurgency along the southern 900km border with Syria, is working with a small specialist Metropolitan Police team to help to locate the schoolgirls.
If the three were not met on arrival at the airport, security sources say they may still be hiding in one of two communities on the outskirts of Istanbul where IS supporters are largely left alone by the local police. Minibuses from these suburbs are understood to ferry jihadists regularly across the porous border.
However, if they were met at the airport, they would have probably already made the journey to Syria, the sources said. The joint UK-Turkish operation is understood to have examined CCTV footage from terminals at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. CCTV cameras at the airport were used last month to identify Hayat Boumeddiene, the alleged partner of the gunman linked to the terrorist attack on a Paris supermarket in January.
Police are concerned that a recent message found on one of the schoolgirls’ computers may have led to them being sent a “guidebook” on what they should take to the airport, how much money they needed and how they could contact someone who would aid their travel into IS-held territory in Syria.
Speaking in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, yesterday, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said: “The fight against Islamist extremist terror ... needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognise they have a role to play.
“We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult.”
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