LONDON — The families of three missing British schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join the Islamic State extremist group have issued emotional public appeals urging them to come home, as police said Feb. 23 they were still searching for them in Turkey.
The girls said to be “straight-A students” from the same east London school, disappeared from their homes Feb. 17 without leaving any messages. Authorities said they boarded a plane to Istanbul.
The relatives of Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, broke down in tears as they spoke of their shock and fear in televised interviews on British media.
“We miss you. We cannot stop crying,” said Abase Hussen, Amira’s father, clutching aTeddy Bear Amira gave to her mother on Mother’s Day. “Please think twice. Don’t go to Syria.”
The case has captured wide attention in Britain, where authorities have warned that the threat is growing from Britons travelling to Syria to fight with Islamic State militants. Officials say at least 500 people have left for Syria.
Authorities have been criticized after it emerged that, before the girls disappeared, Begum had had online contact with a fourth girl, Aqsa Mahmood, who left for Syria in 2013 to become a “jihadi bride.”
Aamer Anwar, the lawyer for the Mahmood’s family, argued that the police failed to engage with families and communities.
“I cannot see why this isn’t considered a child protection issue,” he said. “These young girls have been groomed on line. They have been trafficked.”
All the families said there were no signs that the girls were interested in extremism or of any plans to go abroad.
The police said the girls were interviewed in 2014 in connection with the disappearance of another friend, but said there was nothing to suggest they were at risk.