LONDON (AFP) - The families of three British schoolgirls feared to be travelling to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria issued emotional appeals for them to come home Saturday.
Close friends Kadiza Sultana, 17, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase left their east London homes Tuesday and flew to Istanbul.
Turkey is a key entry point for those seeking to travel to Syria.
Police believe the three girls – all of whom are academic high achievers – were following the example of a friend who fled to join ISIS militants in December.
British media reported that the girls had been interviewed by police about where their friend had gone but were not considered at risk of leaving the country themselves.
Abase’s family agreed that she could be identified for the first time Saturday in the hope of securing her safe return.
“You are strong, smart, beautiful and we are hoping you will make the right decision,” they said in a statement issued by police.
“Please return home.” Sultana’s family described how they were feeling “completely distressed” and that her departure had been “a complete nightmare”.
“We miss you terribly, especially Mum, and things have not been the same without you,” they said.
Begum’s family added that Syria was “a dangerous place and we don’t want you to go there”.
“We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria,” the family said.
“You can help from home, you don’t have to put yourself in danger.”
The girls flew to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from London’s Gatwick airport.
Counter-terrorism experts estimate that around 50 women have travelled from Britain to Syria to join the ISIS group, which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.