© Met Police Turkish intelligence sources fear three British teenage runaway "jihadi brides" have already been smuggled into Isil territory despite a desperate search for them
Three teenage British "jihadi brides" who ran away from home to join fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are feared to have crossed the Turkish border into Syria.
The students, from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, were at the centre of an increasingly desperate international hunt to find them before they managed to enter territory controlled by fighters from Isil.
But intelligence sources in Turkey said Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, appeared to have travelled by car to the border on Friday, from where they crossed into the Isil-controlled town of Tal Abyad.
A Turkish intelligence source told the Telegraph: “They were seen in Tal Abyad on Friday. They were travelling with a Syrian male in a private car. They were using Syrian identity cards.
“We understand that after arriving in Istanbul the girls met an Isil member who is charged with helping foreigners who want to join the group.”
The source said the girls stayed in Istanbul for two days before travelling to the border. An Isil source in Istanbul earlier said they would soon be in a position to join hundreds of its fighters in Syria, where jihadists are waging a campaign of terror against the local population and Western targets.
The source said: “They are in Istanbul and are trying to reach a town on the Turkish border to cross into Syria. There is someone co-ordinating with them. A smuggler. They can’t move by themselves.”
The three – who are described as “grade A” pupils – left their homes in Tower Hamlets at 8am last Tuesday, travelling to Gatwick airport together, where they boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, landing at 6.40pm local time.
To the apparent dismay of Scotland Yard, neither Turkish Airlines, nor the UK Border Force reported that the girls were intending to travel unaccompanied to the region, despite it being a well-worn route to Syria. Shamima is thought to have travelled with her 17-year-old sister Aklima’s passport.
Commander Richard Walton, of the Met’s counter-terrorism command, said: “On this particular occasion we weren’t notified that these girls were travelling. If we had been notified then we might have been able to intervene.”
MPs have now called for an inquiry into the effectiveness of border controls in stopping British youngsters travelling to the region with the intention of joining Isil.
Counter-terror experts estimate that as many as 50 young Muslim women and girls have made the journey from Britain to Syria.
It emerged on Friday that Shamima, Kadiza and Amira were close to a 15-year-old girl from their school who travelled to Syria last December. Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “We need the Government to look at the arrangements at border control and whether they are appropriate for unaccompanied minors on these routes.”
Police questioned the three when their friend travelled to Syria, but they were not kept under watch by counter-terrorism officers as they were not thought to be at immediate risk.
However, it has emerged that the older sister of one of the girls had approached East London Mosque over her concerns about her behaviour. Salman Farsi, spokesman for the mosque, said: “I told her that if you need anything from us, just let us know, and she said that all they need is our prayers and she started crying. This feels quite close to home.”
Mr Farsi said he did not know who or what had persuaded the girls to flee Britain but that they had clearly been manipulated.
Worshippers at the mosque’s Friday prayers were urged to come forward with information that could help police trace the three schoolgirls.
Kadiza’s family said they were “completely distressed” and “extremely worried” for her safety. “We are sending you our heartfelt love, and continue to pray that you along with your friends safely return to us,” they said.
The Turkish intelligence force is understood to be hunting for the girls in Istanbul, along with local police assisted by the British police and security services, but their task has been made harder by the presence of a network of Isil “representatives”, able to hide the three until an opportunity presents itself to travel to the border.
It remains unclear how the girls became radicalised enough to take the step of travelling to Turkey. However, on February 15 Shamima used the social media site Twitter to get in touch with 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, a privately educated woman from Glasgow who joined Isil and married one of its fighters. Mahmood writes a blog and has previously used Twitter to urge British Muslim girls to join her in Syria.
Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour member of the home affairs committee, said more needed to be done urgently to dissuade young Muslims from “the illusion” that they are helping their religion by joining Isil.
Ms Qureshi said: “Some young people are under the impression that by joining Isil they are helping their brothers and sisters who are fighting Western intervention in Muslim countries. It needs to be explained that not only are Isil not following the Koran, but that the majority of their victims are innocent Muslims.”
Police are expected to return to Bethnal Green Academy in the next few days in the hope of discovering further clues and the intentions of the three girls, and to dissuade any of their fellow pupils who may be thinking of making a similar journey.
The school, which says it expects its pupils to be “active citizens and make a positive contribution to the local, national and global community”, is now likely to review the measures it has already put in place to combat radicalisation.
David Cameron urged schools to recognise their role in the “fight against Islamist extremist terror”.
Speaking in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on Saturday Mr Cameron said: “The fight against Islamist extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control.
“It needs every school to recognise they have a role to play. We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this death cult.”
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.
“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 and have the courage to return now, back to their families who are so worried about them.”
Tal Abyad is an Isil controlled town and the Turkish town on the other side of the border, Sanliurfa, has long been known to have an Isil presence. It is believed that Hayat Boumeddiene, the girlfriend of the Paris gunman Amedy Coulibaly, used the route to flee to Syria before the attacks.