Three schoolgirls have fled the UK in a suspected bid to travel to Syria and join the brutal Islamic State (IS).
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an un-named 15-year-old, all from east London, flew to Istanbul, in Turkey, from Gatwick airport on Tuesday without leaving any messages behind for family or friends.
Scotland Yard detectives urgently appealed for information about the missing girls, who all go to the Bethnal Green Academy school and were described as “straight-A students”.
Commander Richard Walton, head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terror command, said the runaways are good friends with another 15-year-old girl who fled to Syria in December.
He said the force was becoming “increasing concerned” about a growing trend of young girls showing an interest or intent in joining IS, an organisation now notorious for its barbaric treatment of hostages and oppression of women.
But Mr Walton added the teenagers’ families were “devastated” but there was a “good chance” the girls were still in Turkey.
Mr Walton said: “We are extremely concerned for the safety of these young girls and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to police.
“Our priority is the safe return of these girls to their families.
“We are reaching out to the girls using the Turkish media and social media in the hope that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend hear our messages, hear our concerns for their safety and have the courage to return now, back to their families who are so worried about them.”
He continued: “We are concerned about the numbers of girls and young women who have or are intending to travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling themselves Islamic State.
“It is an extremely dangerous place and we have seen reports of what life is like for them and how restricted their lives become.
“It is not uncommon for girls or women to be prevented from being allowed out of their houses or if allowed out, only when accompanied by a guardian.
“The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving their families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their safe return.
“If we are able to locate these girls whilst they are still in Turkey we have a good possibility of being able to bring them home to their families.”
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets council said: “The council fully supports the appeal issued today by the police for information that will help to find the three students from Bethnal Green Academy in East London.
“We are working closely with the police, school and community groups to that end.
“If parents have concerns that they wish to discuss as a result of this issue, please contact the police, children’s social care services, talk to staff at your children’s school or to other members of your community group.”