Families of two of the three teenage girls who U.K. counterterrorism officials fear are headed for Syria to join ISIS expressed their concern for the girls' safety Saturday — and begged for them to "please come home to us." Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, were last seen Tuesday morning boarding a flight out of London's Gatwick Airport to Turkey later that afternoon, Metropolitan Police said in a statement Friday. Thousands of ISIS supporters have crossed into Syria through Turkey since the Syrian civil war started four years ago.
"Syria is a dangerous place and we don't want you to go there," Begum's family said in a statement. "We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria," the statement said, urging Begum: "Please don't cross the border. Please come home to us."
Sultana's family said in a similar statement that they "cannot make sense" of why she left home. The family appealed to Sultana to contact them. "We all love you dearly and the last four days have been a complete nightmare not knowing where you are and how you are keeping," the family said.
Abase was not initially identified at the request of her family, but they released her name Saturday and also asked her to "make the right decision" and return home. "We miss you more that you can imagine. We are worried and we want you to think about what you have left behind," the family said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police said Friday they were attempting to reach out to the girls through social media and the Turkish press in the hopes the girls heed their families' calls. “These three families had no idea of the intentions of their daughters — no idea whatsoever that they were going to be traveling to Turkey and that they intended to go to Syria,” said Richard Walton, counterterrorism commander of the Metropolitan Police.
A friend of the girls, Atlanta Broadbent, said they were "smart" and could always articulate their arguments effectively, but never imagined they'd head for Syria: "I wouldn't think something like this would happen."
Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, said most families and friends don't know when teens are planning to travel with intentions of aiding ISIS because the terrorist group uses the Internet "very, very effectively to recruit kids." Most teens have access to the Internet on their phones, Aki said on TODAY, "and their parents have no idea what they're doing oftentimes."
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— Elisha Fieldstadt