Bethnal Green schoolgirls ‘took family jewellery’ to get cash for flight to Isis, MPs told
PUBLISHED: 12:16 11 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:01 11 March 2015
Three schoolgirls who slipped out of the country and are now believed to be in Isis-held territory in Syria paid for their flights to Turkey with cash over-the-counter at a travel agent’s in London’s East End, MPs have been told.
The pupils from Bethnal Green Academy got the money from “taking jewellery from the families,” the Home Affairs Parliamentary committee heard.
The flight to Istanbul cost the girls £1,000. But the families giving evidence to the committee yesterday insisted the girls didn’t have access to “that kind of cash”.
Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told MPs: “The cash was handed over to a local travel agent by three girls. It was linked to taking jewellery from the families.”
Scotland Yard later told the East London Advertiser that it could not comment on the travel agent’s or if any action was being considered.
Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, both 15, travelled to Gatwick with classmate Kadiza Sultana, 16, at half-term on February 17 after telling their parents they were going out for the day.
They weren’t reported missing until that evening or the next morning—after landing in Istanbul and ready to make their way to the Syrian border.
The teenagers had already been quizzed by police in December when another girl from the school had skipped the country, it emerged.
But the school was instructed by police not to reveal anything about her going to Syria, just to say she was missing, the Parliamentary committee heard.
The three girls, all close friends of the first missing teenager, had also been given a letter to hand to their parents alerting them—but the girls never passed it on.
A lawyer representing the three families, Tasnime Akinjee, told the committee: “The letter should have been given direct to the parents.
“The police owe the families an apology—the parents should have been ‘on notice’ about travel abroad or radicalisation.”
He added: “No questions were asked at Gatwick about the unaccompanied youngsters—airport staff are more focussed on whether luggage fits than child safety.”
Mr Akinjee was also furious at a police liaison officer later telling the families “not to talk to their solicitor” and said he needed “retraining”.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “The school was instructed not to tell parents the first girl had gone to Syria—but failed to tell parents at home.”
Sahima Begum, Shamira’s older sister, told MPs: “Not getting the letter or information about the girl meant we weren’t prepared (for what happened on February 17).
“If we had been given information in December about the first girl going to Syria we would have thought about it more because she was (Shamira’s) close friend—but we weren’t given that opportunity.
“All we were told was that police had spoken to girls about a friend who was ‘missing’—no mention of being abroad or about terrorism. I feel let down by the police.”
Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe faced “damning evidence” of “failure to communicate” and criticism about the liaison officer’s behaviour.
He responded: “I am sorry the families feel this way and sorry the letter didn’t get through. We didn’t realise these three were also planning to go (to Syria).
It’s difficult to get the balance right and hard to know why young women are attracted to Isis.
“There are 1.25 million Muslims in London. It’s hard to spot who is going to Isis, with at least 700 already gone. It’s a real challenge.”
The families and MPs questioned how three unaccompanied schoolgirls managed to slip through Gatwick security—one of them using someone else’s passport—and called for tighter procedures to prevent more children following the path to Isis.
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