Three missing schoolgirls heading for ISIS not first to skip UK from Bethnal Green Academy
- Credit: Archant
The three teenage girls missing from east London’s Bethnal Green Academy and thought to be heading for war-torn Syria are not the first pupils from the school to make the journey to join ISIS fundamentalist fighters, it has emerged.
Another pupil—who hasn’t been named—skipped the country in December, school principal Mark Keary revealed today.
“Police spoke to the student’s friends at the time,” he said. “There was no evidence that the girls were at risk of being radicalised or absconding.
“The families of the three (latest) girls missing were unaware of their plans to leave the country.
“We are all shocked and deeply saddened that three of our students boarded a flight to Istanbul.”
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Letters were sent to all parents on Saturday, following Scotland Yard revelations that the girls had been spotted on CCTV going through security at Gatwick—then boarded a flight for Turkey where it is believed they are trying to slip across the frontier into Syria.
Police have spoken to staff and year group assemblies at the school, while a support team remains on campus for pupils who want to talk to them.
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The school is adamant the girls had no access to extremist Islamic websites on its computers.
“Access to social media networks is strictly regulated,” Mr Keary stressed. “Students are unable to access Twitter or Facebook. Police have advised us that there’s no evidence that radicalisation of the missing students took place at the academy.”
The school was “constantly reviewing” its safeguarding procedures.
“The priority is for the safe return of the girls,” he added. “Our thoughts are with the families of the missing girls as we wait for news and hope for their safe return to their homes and families.
“A core aspect of our ethos is to promote the British values of democracy, tolerance and respect for other cultures.”
Police are appealing for information about the girls or witnesses who saw them last Tuesday.
Shamima Begum, 15, is possibly travelling under the name of “Aklima Begum,” they believe. She is thought to be travelling with her classmates Amira Abase, also 15, and Kadira Sultana, 16.
They were last seen around 8am last Tuesday when they left their homes giving their families “plausible reasons” why they would be out for the day.
Instead, they met up and travelled to Gatwick where they boarded Turkish Airlines flight TK1966, which took off at 12.40pm for Istanbul, where it touched down at 6.48pm local time, Scotland Yard has confirmed.
Counter Terrorism Commander Richard Walton said: “We are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and are using the Turkish and social media in the hope the girls hear our messages, our concerns for their safety and have the courage to return back to their families who are so worried about them.”
Shamima is described as 5ft 7ins tall and was wearing 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.
Kadira is 5ft 6ins tall, slim, in a long black jacket with a hood, grey striped scarf, grey jumper, dark red trousers and carrying a black holdall.
Both are British nationals and speak with London accents and also speak Bengali.
Amira is 5ft 6ins, slim, wearing a black head scarf, long dark green jacket with fur lined hood, light yellow long sleeved top, black trousers, white trainers carrying a black Nike holdall. She speaks English and Amharic.
All three wear black-rimmed glasses.
Police are appealing to anyone who saw them making their way to Gatwick, waiting at the airport, on flight TK1966 or when they arrived in Istanbul to contact the incident room on the freephone Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800-789 321.