Families of Syria-bound teens beg them come home

USA Today/February 21, 2015

By Doug Stanglin

The families of two of the three London teenage girls who are believed to be trying to travel into Syria to join the Islamic State appealed to them Saturday to come home.

"Get in touch with the police and they will help to bring you home. You are not in any trouble," the family of 15-year-old Shamima Begum said in a statement, the BBC reports. "Please, if you hear this message, get in touch and let us know you are safe. We want you home with us."

They also said they understand her strong feelings for those suffering in Syria, but told her: "You can help from home, you don't have to put yourself in danger. Please don't cross the border."

The family of 16-year-old Kadiz Sultana issued a similar appeal, the BBC says.

"We miss you terribly, especially Mum, and things have not been the same without you," the Sultana family said.

They emphasized that they were not angry with her, but "feeling completely distressed and cannot make sense of why you left home."

"We ... pray that you along with your friends safely return to us, or at least contact us to let us know you are okay."

The messages were initially posted on Twitter by BBC correspondent Daniel Sandford.

Shamima, Kadiza and an unnamed 15-year-old, all on midterm break from London's Bethnal Green Academy, flew from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul on Tuesday, according to London Metro Police. The third girl is not being named at the request of her family.

In an earlier interview with the BBC, Salman Farsi, spokesman for the East London Mosque where the girls' families pray, said the three had been manipulated.

Scotland Yard released an airport surveillance photo of three teens who flew to Turkey on Feb. 17, 2015, apparently trying to join the Islamic State in Syria.

"They have been misled," Farsi said. "I do not know what was promised to them. It is just sad. We have not had anything like this before in our community.

"I do not know what was told to them but if they do go to Syria, it is a war zone and there are serious ramifications for going into a war zone."

The family's appeal came as British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed concern that the three girls are apparently attempting to join the "appalling death cult."

"It is deeply concerning, and obviously our authorities will do everything we can to help these girls," the prime minister said Saturday.

"But it does make a broader point, which is the fight against Islamist extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control."

Police commander Richard Walton, of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism unit, said the three — described as "straight-A students" and "normal girls" — were last seen Tuesday when they gave their families "plausible reasons" to be out for the day.

Police believe the girls, caught on an airport surveillance video, are trying to cross the Turkish-Syrian border and are "extremely vulnerable." The girls are friends with a fourth student who went to Syria in December.

Scotland Yard appealed to anyone who may have seen them at Gatwick or arriving in Istanbul to contact police.

"Any piece of information, no matter how small, could help the U.K. or Turkish authorities locate them so they can be safely returned home," the police said.

As many as 50 British women are believed to have gone to join the Islamic State as "jihadi brides," the BBC reported.

Last year, twin teenage sisters Zahra and Salma Halane from Manchester turned up later in Syria as "jihadi brides," The Telegraph reported.

They later were widowed when their husbands died while fighting for the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. The newspaper says one of the sisters recently posted photos from Syria showing her completing self-defense training with AK-47s and handguns.

In another case, police prevented a 15-year-old from joining the Islamic State by stopping her flight to Turkey on the runway at Heathrow.

Cameron said every school, university, college and community should play its part to prevent more young girls from leaving to join the group.

"We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult," he said.

Scotland Yard, in a public appeal on its website, says anyone worried that a family member may be contemplating traveling to Syria should contact authorities "so that we can intervene and help."

"This is not about criminalizing people — it is about preventing tragedies by offering support to the young and vulnerable," the police statement said.

Walton says that if the girls made it into Syria, they might not be able to leave if they change their minds.

"The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving their families in the U.K. devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return," he said.

"We are reaching out to the girls using the Turkish media and social media in the hope that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend hear our messages, hear our concerns for their safety and have the courage to return now, back to their families who are so worried about them," Walton said.

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