UK

Police Appeal For Three Schoolgirls From Top London School Who Are Headed To Syria

20/02/2015 14:47 GMT | Updated 20/02/2015 16:59 GMT

Police have issued an urgent plea to stop three missing girls from an "outstanding" London academy reaching Syria in a suspected bid to join the Islamic State group (IS).

The teenagers, two of whom have been named as Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana, were reported missing by their families soon after they failed to return home on Tuesday.

CCTV images of the trio at Gatwick Airport have been released by police. They are believed to have caught flight TK1966 to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines at 12:40pm, and to be intending on making their way to Syria.

All three attended Bethnal Green Academy in east London, a school rated 'Outstanding' in its 2012 Ofsted inspection. They are believed to be friends with a fourth girl from the same school, who travelled to join Islamic State in December.

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Kadiza Sultana, one of the runaway schoolgirls

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Her fellow Bethnal Green Academy pupil is Shamima Begum

Kadiza Sultana, 16, is pictured wearing a long black coat with a cream striped scarf, dark red skinny jeans and thick black glasses. Shamima Begum can be seen wearing wearing similar black thick rimmed glasses, a black hijab, light brown and black leopard print scarf, dark red jumper, black trousers and jacket, carrying a dark blue cylindrical shape holdall with white straps. She is a British national and speaks English with a London accent, as well as Bengali.

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A third 15-year-old female, who is not being named at the request of her family, can be seen wearing a black head scarf, long dark green jacket with fur lined hood, light yellow long sleeved top, black trousers, and white trainers carrying a black Nike holdall. Police said all three gave their families "plausible reasons as to why they would be out for the day".

Turkish Airlines did not notify police that the girls were on board the flight. They are believed to still have their mobile phones with them.

Schoolgirls headed to Syria

Counter Terrorism Command at Scotland Yard said they were going public with the appeal in an attempt to prevent the girls from crossing the border into Syria.

Commander Richard Walton said the force was becoming "increasing concerned" about a growing trend of young girls showing an interest or intent in joining IS, an organisation now notorious for its barbaric treatment of hostages and oppression of women.

“We would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police. Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.

"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."

Shamina and the third girl were reported missing to police by their families later that evening when they did not return home. Kadiza was reported missing by her family on Wednesday morning.

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Bethnal Green Academy in East London where the three girls attended

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Prince Harry visited the school last year to promote an Invictus Games event for wounded warriors

Walton continued: “We are concerned about the numbers of girls and young women who have or are intending to travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling themselves Islamic State. It is an extremely dangerous place and we have seen reports of what life is like for them and how restricted their lives become. It is not uncommon for girls or women to be prevented from being allowed out of their houses or if allowed out, only when accompanied by a guardian.

“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.

"If we are able to locate these girls whilst they are still in Turkey we have a good possibility of being able to bring them home to their families.

"Anyone who is concerned that a family member may be contemplating travelling to Syria should contact police and partners so that we can intervene and help. This is not about criminalising people it is about preventing tragedies by offering support to the young and vulnerable."

A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets council said: "The council fully supports the appeal issued today by the police for information that will help to find the three students from Bethnal Green Academy in East London.

"We are working closely with the police, school and community groups to that end.

"If parents have concerns that they wish to discuss as a result of this issue, please contact the police, children's social care services, talk to staff at your children's school or to other members of your community group."

A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets council said: "The council fully supports the appeal issued today by the police for information that will help to find the three students from Bethnal Green Academy in east London. We are working closely with the police, school and community groups to that end.

"If parents have concerns that they wish to discuss as a result of this issue, please contact the police, children's social care services, talk to staff at your children's school or to other members of your community group."

The number of Western migrants who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join IS is believed to be around 3,000, including as many as 550 women, according to a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue released last month.

The report said: ''There is no doubt, therefore, that the women who migrate to the territory controlled by Isis revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation. They appear desensitised to the horrific nature of the violent acts being committed.''

Anyone with any information about where the three girls are should call the police incident room via the free phone Anti-Terrorist Hotline number on 0800 789 321.

Schoolgirls headed to Syria