Fight against terror

London schoolgirl who fled to Syria 'killed in air strike'

Kadiza ran away in February last year to join ISIS, but she was reportedly planning to return to Britain, having become "disillusioned with life" under the terror group.
Kadiza ran away in February last year to join ISIS, but she was reportedly planning to return to Britain, having become "disillusioned with life" under the terror group.PHOTO: LONDON METROPLITAN POLICE

LONDON • One of the three London schoolgirls who made headlines last year when they fled to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group is believed to have been killed by a Russian air strike, a British television channel has reported.

ITV News also said that the girl, Kadiza Sultana, 17, had become "disillusioned with life in the mediaeval terror state" and had been planning to return to Britain.

She is believed to have been in a residential building in Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in north-eastern Syria, when it was hit in May by a bomb thought to have been dropped by a Russian warplane, ITV said in an article on its website.

ITV said its report was based on communications with her relatives in London, with unidentified contacts in Raqqa and with a lawyer for her family, Mr Tasnime Akunjee. The report said he had been working on an escape plan for her.

It said that her family had been "informed of Kadiza's reported death by other people in Raqqa and confirmed details in a statement to ITV News".

The report quoted her sister, Halima, as saying: "We were expecting this, in a way. But at least we know she is in a better place."

Kadiza's relatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Akunjee, in a telephone interview, confirmed the substance of the ITV account, but said he did not know with certainty whether she had been killed.

"This did not come from any official sources," he said. "I can't tell you where the information came from. I suspect it's true. But I don't know for a fact that it's true. Nobody knows for sure anything, because it's a war zone."

Kadiza and her companions, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, who were both 15 when they joined ISIS in February last year, became symbols of the organisation's ability to lure foreign women to its militant cause.

Prohibited from engaging in combat, the women support the group's goal of building a caliphate by becoming wives, mothers, recruiters and online cheerleaders of its violent acts.

According to a report in May last year by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based research group that studies extremism, ISIS had recruited an estimated 4,000 Western foreign fighters and migrants, including more than 550 women.

The disappearance of the girls - straight-A students who had kept secret their desire to join the extremist group - took their families by surprise and stunned the nation.

The three became known as the Bethnal Green schoolgirls, after the east London neighbourhood where they grew up.

Their relatives made desperate public pleas for help, and some travelled to Istanbul.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'London schoolgirl who fled to Syria 'killed in air strike''. Print Edition | Subscribe