LONDON — A “bedroom radical” who left home to join ISIS denies that she recruited three missing schoolgirls to Syria, her family said Monday.
Aqsa Mahmood, who left her home in Britain in 2013 and married an ISIS fighter, told her family that she was not responsible for luring the teenage girls from London, NBC News’ British partner ITV News reported.
The girls — Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 — are believed be in Syria after leaving their families and traveling to Turkey.
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“She was never in contact with them and ... I believe her,” Mahmood’s father, Muzaffar, told ITV. He said that his 21-year-old daughter had been in touch by text message to deny reports of her involvement.
Mahmood’s parents have described her as a “bedroom radical” and have said they feel betrayed by their daughter’s decision to join the militants. Intelligence officials worry that some young radicals who travel to join ISIS that some will return intent on carrying out a terror attack.
On Sunday, three other British teenagers who planned to join ISIS were captured in Turkey, officials there said. The boys, two 17-year-olds and a 19-year-old, were intercepted in Istanbul after police in London were made aware they had vanished.
On Monday, British police unveiled an awareness campaign aimed at preventing similar cases and said that as many as 22 women and girls in the past year had been reported missing and were feared to be in Syria.
“By encouraging mothers to have an open dialogue with their daughters, it is hoped that potential interest in traveling to Syria will be picked up at an early stage and that the mother will be able to take action, either by challenging the misconceptions or seeking help,” London’s Metropolitan Police said.
Helen Ball, senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing on the force, said: "We are increasingly concerned about young women traveling or intending to traveling to Syria.
“It is an extremely dangerous place, and the reality of the lifestyle they are greeted with when they arrive is far from that promoted online by terrorist groups,” she said. “The option of returning home is often taken away from them, leaving families at home devastated and with very few options to secure a safe return for their loved one.”
— Alastair Jamieson, Michele Neubert and Sarah Burke