Police are “extremely concerned” for the safety of three missing schoolgirls from Tower Hamlets who are feared to be travelling to Syria via Turkey.
Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15 and an unnamed 15-year-old, all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy, have been missing from their homes since Tuesday. Police believe that Shamima could be using the name Acklina Begum. The third girl has not been named at the request of her family. It is suspected that they wish to enter Syria to become “jihadi brides” after being recruited on social media.
The girls, who were on their half-term break, left their homes before 8:00am on the day they disappeared, giving their families “plausible reasons” why they would be gone for several hours. They travelled to Gatwick airport and boarded Turkish Airlines flight TK1966 to Istanbul which departed at 12:40pm.
The news broke today when Commander Richard Walton of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit gave a press conference at Scotland Yard. The teenagers, who are close friends with another London girl who travelled to Syria in December, were described as “straight-A students”, “normal girls” and “very vulnerable”.
“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 stressed the importance of locating the girls while in Turkey, saying: “The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving their families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return.”
The search follows an incident that occurred shortly before Christmas in which a 15-year-old girl also from Tower Hamlets was narrowly prevented from flying to Turkey when police officers stopped her plane on the runway at Heathrow. It was reported that the girl had secretly saved for a ticket after being inspired by extremist material online and was rescued by police within seconds of her departure after her family raised the alarm. Another teenage girl who travelled separately managed to leave the country before police could intervene.
Shamima is described as being 5ft 7in tall and Kadiza is 5ft 6in tall. Both are British nationals who speak with London accents and speak both English and Bengali. The third girl is 5ft 6in, of slim build and speaks English. They are all reported to be wearing black-rimmed glasses and black headscarves.
Police stressed that the appeal was not about “criminalising people, it is about preventing tragedies by offering support to the young and vulnerable”.
Anyone with any information should call the free phone Anti-Terrorist Hotline number on 0800 789 321.
EastLondonLines approached Bethnal Green Academy for comment but they were not available.