Britain: Schoolgirls bunking class and sneaking off to Syria in pursuit of fun
The latest example is of three girls - Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16.
They are now believed to have slipped into Syria. Their heart-broken families, who say they had no idea of what was going on, have appealed to the girls to return home.
The girls are all pupils at an East London school, Bethnal Green Academy, where a high proportion of the students are from Bangladeshi families.
The girls sparked a police hunt after they flew to Istanbul from Gatwick Airport last Tuesday. Security camera video at Gatwick, near London, showed that the girls had boarded a Turkish Airways flight to Istanbul.
British police officers flew to Turkey, the normal route for entry into Syria, to try and bring the girls back home but now say they were too late getting there. Helped by agents of the Islamic State, the girls have apparently been spirited across the border into Syria.
Back in December, the three girls were questioned by police about another of their classmates, a 15-year-old, who preceded them to Syria. But at the time there was apparently nothing to suggest the three were also planning to leave everything behind in London and make a new life in Syria.
In fact, there was nothing in their behaviour to suggest they were anything other than bright and conscientious students.
Instead, one of them, Shamima, had used her Twitter account to get in touch with a woman named Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow for Syria in 2013 and is now described by officials as one of the most active recruiters of young British women to join the Islamic State.
Aqsa, who now goes by the name Umm Layth (Mother of the Lion), once listened to Coldplay, read Harry Potter novels and drank Irn Bru, a Scottish soft drink, and had aspired to be a pharmacist or a doctor.
She is now thought to live in Syria's Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, where she married an extremist and acts as a virtual den mother to peers.
The precise role Aqsa might have played in the flight of the three London teenagers is unclear, since Shamima, not Aqsa, initiated their exchange on Twitter.
Their conversation quickly moved to an encrypted social media channel, which is standard practice among would- be extremists seeking practical information on how to reach Syria.
There are about 100 British women among the 550 western women who are thought to have joined terror groups in Syria and Iraq, according to the Soufan Group, a security consultancy based in New York.
Female recruits are generally younger than their male counterparts, said Ross Frenett of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London research organisation that studies extremism. As the radicals see it, " a 15- year- old makes a good wife", he said. " A 14- yearold male is less useful as a combatant." Women who join the Islamic State try to entice other women to marry militants and help them build a new, retrograde society.
Aqsa tweeted that, compared with Scotland, the winters in Syria " are too much", and advised, " Sisters please don't forget to pack thermal clothing or you'll regret it later on." She also admonished them: " Sisters, please… contact the sisters whom are online rather than approaching the brothers. Also know the fact many brothers whom you contact and chat to are married.
Have some self- respect and don't be a homewrecker." Aqsa has been disowned by her parents who issued this condemnation of their own daughter: " You are a disgrace to your family and the people of Scotland, your actions are a perverted and evil distortion of Islam. You are killing your family every day with your actions, they are begging you to stop if you ever loved them." In London, the three girls' head teacher said he was " shocked and saddened" by their disappearance but said the police had not found evidence that they were radicalised at school.
Mark Keary, principal of the Bethnal Green Academy, said the police spoke to the girls after another student disappeared in December and indicated at the time that there was no evidence that they were at risk of being radicalised or absconding. He also said access to social media at the school was " strictly regulated". A public appeal for information about the missing girls was launched by the police on Friday, three days after the girls boarded their flight to Turkey.
Scotland Yard last night said counter- terrorism officers leading the investigation " now have reason to believe that they are no longer in Turkey and have crossed into Syria". A spokesman added: " Officers continue to work closely with the Turkish authorities on this investigation." The general opinion in Britain is that the girls are little more than children who have been led astray and that every effort should be made to bring them back to their distraught parents.
But no one can quite understand why girls from ordinary homes are not put off by news of beheadings being carried out by Islamic State fighters.
Instead, the prospect of witnessing violence at close quarters and being part of dramatic changes in Syria appears to be attracting impressionable youngsters.
The possibility of being given away in " marriage" to the fighters, with whom the girls do not even share a common language, also appears to be enhancing the thrill of their " romantic" escapades.
Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned this " appalling death cult" and urged schools to recognise their role in the " fight against… extremist terror". " It is deeply concerning and obviously our authorities will do everything we can to help these girls," the Prime Minister said. " But it does make a broader point which is the fight against… extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control. It needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognise they have a role to play. We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult."
-The Telegraph, Calcutta
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