The family of a woman who has been accused of recruiting three teenage girls from Britain to join ISIS in Syria condemned her Sunday for the "misery" she has caused her own relatives and the relatives of the three schoolgirls. "The family of Aqsa Mahmood are not sure how much more misery that Aqsa can inflict on her own family but the fact that she is now accused of destroying other families is beyond the pale," Aamer Anwar, a spokesman for the young woman's family, said in a statement.
Mahmood, who is in her early 20s, left her home in Glasgow to marry an ISIS militant in Syria in November 2013, her family said at the time. Officials fear that Mahmood played a role in recruiting Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, who were last seen by their families Tuesday morning before they took a flight from London's Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement Friday. U.K. counter-terrorism experts fear the girls are trying to cross the border into a part of Syria controlled by the extremist group ISIS, and The Telegraph cited intelligence officials in Turkey saying the girls had already traveled to the ISIS-held town of Tal Abyad. NBC News has not independently verified those claims.
"You are a disgrace to your family and the people of Scotland, your actions are a perverted and evil distortion of Islam," Mahmood's family said, adding that they were also disappointed in their government for failing to intercept the three schoolgirls before they left. "Aqsa's social media has been monitored since she disappeared over a year ago, yet despite alleged contact between the girls and Aqsa, they failed to stop them from leaving the U.K. to Turkey, a staging post for Syria," the statement said.
Begum's sister, Renu Begum, similarly said Sunday that "preying on young innocent girls ... is a cruel and evil thing to do." Begum said her sister is "a clever girl, but she's only young, and young minds can easily be swayed." Begum said her family was holding out hope that her sibling, who she said is the "baby" and "favorite," went to retrieve a classmate, who allegedly traveled to Syria last year.
The Metropolitan Police said Saturday that they had questioned the girls in December, after the "disappearance" of one of their friends, but "there was nothing to suggest at the time that the girls themselves were at risk, and indeed their disappearance has come as a great surprise, not least to their own families."
The families of the three girls released separate statements Saturday, begging for them to return. "You are strong, smart, beautiful and we are hoping you will make the right decision," Abase's family said, adding, "Please come home Amira, everyone is missing you."
— Elisha Fieldstadt