Families of three missing Syria girls demand police apology

‘We should have been warned about friend who had gone to Syria’, they tell MPs

Nigel Morris
Tuesday 10 March 2015 20:36
From left: Fahmida Aziz, Kadiza Sultana’s cousin; Sahima Begum, Shamima’s older sister, and Hussen Abase, father of Amira, appear before the committee on Tuesday
From left: Fahmida Aziz, Kadiza Sultana’s cousin; Sahima Begum, Shamima’s older sister, and Hussen Abase, father of Amira, appear before the committee on Tuesday

The families of the three London girls who flew to Turkey to join Isis in Syria told MPs of their anger that police failed to tell them that a close schoolfriend had already linked up with militant fighters.

They told MPs they had no idea the teenagers had been radicalised, but protested that they might have been able to act if they had been warned that a fellow pupil had recently travelled to the warzone.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, apologised that his officers had failed to communicate more directly with the families.

But he insisted there was nothing more the force could have done to prevent the departures of Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15.

Left to right: Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum waught on CCTV at Gatwick airport on their way to Turkey last month

The force also stressed they were being viewed as victims rather than terrorists and would not face jail if they came back. Sir Bernard said: “If they return home there are no terrorism issues here.”

The girls, who were friends at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, flew to Turkey last month and are believed to have crossed its border with Syria and to be living in the Isis stronghold of al Raqqa. There are fears that they are set to become “jihadi brides”.

Police gave letters to the three schoolgirls, as well as four others, to give to their families about the schoolmate who had already gone to Syria. But the girls did not pass them on, raising questions over why police did not send the letters direct to the family homes.

Appearing before the Commons home affairs select committee, Shamima’s sister Sahima Begum, Amira’s father, Hussen Abase, and Kadiza’s cousin Fahmida Aziz said they would have done more if the families had received the letters.

Ms Begum said the family was “never given the opportunity” to question Shamima about the other girl who had gone to Syria, finding about the letter only after the teenager disappeared.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe apologised for failing to communicate more directly with the families

She told MPs that she felt let down by Scotland Yard, complaining that all the information that relatives were given about her sister had been passed to the police by the family in the first place.

Mr Abase said it was a “puzzle” why the letters had not been sent directly to the girls’ parents.

Tasnime Akunjee, the solicitor for the families, said the handing-out of the letter to the girls could have prompted them to travel to Syria.

He said: “It is precisely the failure to communicate this key piece of information which disabled the family from intervention in the children’s plans. All the police had to do was use an envelope and we might have avoided all of this.”

The families' solicitor Tasnime Akunjee

All three relatives insisted there were no signs the girls had been radicalised.

Ms Aziz said: “[Kadiza] was going to school quite happy. There weren’t any signs we would recognise.”

Ms Begum said: “My sister was into normal teenage things. She used to do normal things like watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Mr Abase said his daughter was the kind of girl who would call him to pick her up at sunset.

When their complaints were put to Sir Bernard, he replied: “We are sorry if the family feel like that, clearly it’s a terrible situation they find themselves in, having lost their daughters in such a horrible way.”

He added: “Sorry the letter we intended to get through, didn’t get through. It is clear that failed. It was intended for them and failed and for that of course we’re sorry.”

The Commissioner added that Scotland Yard was reviewing how it notified families in similar cases in the future.

It emerged during the hearing that the girls are believed to have stolen jewellery from a relative to raise the money for their flights to Turkey. They handed over more than £1,000 in cash to pay for the tickets at an east London travel agent.

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