A British Muslim father feared to be travelling to Syria with his young family is a “champion for shariah” law who used to be a member of the banned extremist group al-Mujahiroun, it has been claimed.
Asif Malik, 31, his partner Sara Kiran, 29, and their four children have not been seen for almost two weeks. The family, from Slough in Berkshire, left without mentioning any holiday or travel plans to their friends or relatives, which police described as entirely out of character.
The group was seen boarding a ferry from Dover to Calais and are then believed to have travelled south through Europe by train. Thames Valley Police said they may be heading to Syria, where Islamic State (IS) is fighting to establish a Muslim caliphate.
Anjem Choudary, the radical Muslim cleric, has claimed that Mr Malik had formerly been a member of al-Mujahiroun and had remained “very influential in the community” since the group was banned five years ago.
“Back in the day he was a member until the group was banned. He was still part of our demonstrations and lectures but I hadn't seen him for a few months,” Choudary told the Daily Telegraph.
Describing Mr Malik as a “very good friend”, he continued: “He is a very studious man, a very good Muslim character. He was always a champion for shariah and is very influential in the community.”
At a press conference Deputy Chief Constable John Campbell said that while the family may simply be missing, it was “legitimate for us to hope for the best, but fear for the worst”.
The couple are travelling with their daughter Zoha, seven, and three sons Essa, four, Zakariya, two, and Yhaya, one. Mr Malik had previously told relatives that he would “like to live in a Muslim country”, said Mr Campbell.
“Given the online rhetoric from the Islamic State encouraging people to travel to Syria, the direction of travel and concerns voiced by Asif’s family, we are concerned the family may be seeking to travel to Syria,” he added. “I’m not suggesting they’re intending to join IS.”
The family have not been seen in the UK since 8 April, after leaving Slough during the half-term break. Officers believe they caught the 12.30am ferry from Dover and may have travelled through Budapest on or around 12 April, heading towards Turkey. They were reported missing by their relatives four days later.
Police are working with Turkish authorities in an attempt to find the family, but Mr Campbell admitted they may already be in Syria. Officers are not aware of any previous social services contact with the children, he added.
“There’s certainly no suggestion the children are under any kind of threat or risk from parents. There’s nothing to suggest that Mum and Dad are anything but absolutely loving parents.”
Police said they were “reaching out” to the couple in the hope that they would come home. “We would urge anyone with information about the family’s whereabouts to come forward and speak to police so the family can safely return to the UK,” Mr Campbell said.
Members of Mr Malik's family have issued a desperate plea for the six to return home.
In a statement released through Thames Valley Police, they said: "With the reality that our loved one Asif Malik and his family have left the UK without any notice, our lives have been completely devastated.
"We are totally distraught, upset and in shock. The greatest sadness is the decision by Asif and Sara to travel with their young family, such beautiful children."
In what will be seen as a direct plea to Mr Malik, the family said: "Please Asif, we ask you to think about what has happened and the decisions you have made.
"Please can you ring us or send us a message to let us know that you and the children are well. All we wish for is your safe return and especially the return of the children. We are not angry with you, we are just heartbroken."