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Missing Syria schoolgirls: Families receive phone calls from girls to say they are safe - for now

Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, assured relatives that they are safe and have been separated from one another

Andrew Johnson
Thursday 28 May 2015 20:26 BST
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Three runaway British girls who are feared to have joined Isis in Syria have made contact with their families, according to reports.

Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, assured relatives that they are safe and have been separated from one another, a lawyer for their families told the BBC.

In a separate interview, a defector who claimed she had looked after the east London schoolgirls when they arrived in February, and taught them how to behave, said they are being trained for special missions and will “probably die”.

Speaking from the Turkish-Syrian border, the woman told Sky News that the girls would never go home, and would probably die in Iraq or Syria. “Everything is already decided for you and you cannot evade it or refuse it,” she said of joining the terror group. “You cannot have a mind of your own: you have to follow their orders.”

It is suggested the 22-year-old woman who knew about the London girls recently defected from Isis where she was a senior female commander. The woman, calling herself Um Asmah, told Sky News: “They were very happy to come to Syria in Ar-Raqqa and meet the people of Daesh [Isis]. I think it is interesting to them.”

She is not optimistic about the fate of the teenagers, believing they will not return home to Britain and may die in Syria or Iraq. As a defector, the woman says she is now constantly afraid and also scared about what will happen to her family in Syria.

She added that Isis, which calls itself Islamic State (IS), has sophisticated techniques for grooming teenagers on social media. “IS are not stupid; they have educated people who know how to deal with [the] psychology of others, how to deal with the human being. All these are in IS,” she said. “They have ways to attract people – especially foreigners. Otherwise young British people wouldn’t come and say they will change the flag on Buckingham Palace.

“IS have the ability to manipulate the minds of young people. If they can convince foreigners, it is even easier to convince Arabs and Syrians. They have freedom and everything is available – they have no need to come to Syria but they do.”

Police launched an international hunt for the three Bethnal Green Academy pupils after they left Britain from Gatwick on 17 February. Members of their families, who appeared before a committee of MPs in March, claimed they were normal schoolgirls who watched shows including Keeping up with the Kardashians. It is understood they were following another 15-year-old girl who travelled there in December.

The Metropolitan Police believes around 600 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq since the conflict began, and around half are believed to have returned to the UK.

The claim came as a new report suggested that the so-called “terror twins” Zahra and Salma Halane, 16, from Manchester, “have taken on influential roles” among the British women who have travelled to the war zone, including urging others to join them.

A report, released by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says that the Halane sisters married Isis fighters and were quickly widowed soon after arriving in Syria via Turkey in July, and have been further radicalised by the experience.

In Till Martyrdom Do Us Part: Gender and the Isis Phenomenon, Erin Marie Saltman and Melanie Smith wrote that “It is apparent that the Halane twins have taken on influential roles within the cluster of British women who have journeyed to Isis territory.

“However, Zahra and Salma occupy distinct roles. While both encourage other ‘sisters’ to join them and revel in terrorist attacks on Western soil, Salma appears to [think of]… the evolution of her life in Manchester to her life in Isis as a continuum, whereas Zahra appears to have separated these two episodes entirely.

“Through the lens of social media, it is obvious that the Halane twins have radicalised further during their time in Isis territory, particularly since the deaths of their husbands.”

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