LONDON — U.K. counterterror officials were urgently searching for three teenage schoolgirls they feared had run away from home to travel to Syria, police said Friday.
The girls, all good friends aged 15 to 16, boarded a Turkish Airlines flight at London’s Gatwick Airport at 12:40 p.m. (7:45 a.m. ET) Tuesday and arrived in Istanbul later that evening, police said in a statement. Thousands of wannabe ISIS rebels have crossed into Syria through Turkey since the civil war there started four years ago.
The girls were last seen at their homes at 8 a.m. (3 a.m. ET) that morning, where they made plausible excuses to their families as to why they would be out for the day, officials added.
Launching an appeal for information about the three, officials in London also said they were concerned about how many of young women traveling to the part of Syria controlled by the extremist group ISIS. “It is an extremely dangerous place,” Walton said.
“We are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police,” said Richard Walton, counterterror commander of the Metropolitan Police. “Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.”
The girls were identified as 15-year-old Shamima Begum, 16-year-old Kadiza Sultana, and a 15-year-old who has not been named at the request of her family. Begum and the third girl were reported missing to police by their families later that evening when they did not return home. Sultana was reported missing by her family on Wednesday morning.
All three went to school in Bethnal Green, East London, according to police. Police said that Begum and Sultana had London accents and also spoke Bengali, the unnamed 15-year-old spoke English and Amharic, a language native to Ethiopia.
Police said they were attempting to reach out to the girls through social media and the Turkish press.