Tip-off from public alerted British police to girl bound for Syria to join ISIS

LONDON - British police stopped an airplane from taking off from London's Heathrow airport following a tip-off from the public that a teenage passenger on board was flying to Syria to join Islamist fighters.

Scotland Yard confirmed that a 15-year-old girl from Tower Hamlets suburb was returned home, but did not give further details, the Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday (Dec 17).

The girl from Tower Hamlets in east London had secretly saved and bought a ticket to Istanbul without her parents' knowledge. But the police received a tip-off from an unidentified source from the local community, who suggested she was on the Dec 6 flight.

After authorities found out about her plans, Scotland Yard detectives rushed to the airport and ordered the jet to turn around, the Evening Standard reported.

This girl has since gone home, but another girl of 15, who detectives discovered was travelling at the same time, managed to leave before police could intervene. There was no other information available about the other 15-year-old girl.

A police source told the Standard that on Dec 6, the plane was taxiing down the runway when it was stopped. "We managed to turn it round. This was a big decision to take because of all the disruption it caused. But we had to stop her going. It has probably saved her life."

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made a conscious effort to recruit women as part of its propaganda war with the West. Counter-terrorism experts say it is unclear how many of the 500 Britons thought to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS are women. But they believe there are about 200 Western women there.

Ms Sasha Havlicek, from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, told the Guardian that UK women played an important role in ISIS' online communications strategy. They bolster the group's claim to be fighting a "decadent and morally corrupt" Western society, which has no respect for women.

Ms Melanie Smith from the King's College International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation said the profile of ISIS recruits has changed.

"The girls are getting younger," she told the Guardian. "Typically 19 or 20. Nor do they seem to be particularly fanatical in their piety." The women responding now, she said, were "going for adventure, just like the young men".