A 15 year old girl from Bristol is missing from her family home, and is believed to have travelled to Istanbul in Turkey with another teenage girl. It is thought that the pair plan to travel on to Syria to wed jihadi fighters, although it is not known how the girls became radicalised.
Yusra Hussien, a grade-A student who dreamed of becoming a dentist, was last seen by her parents leaving her family home in the Easton area of the city for school last Wednesday morning. When she wasn’t at school when her father came to pick her up in the afternoon, her parents reported her missing, the Daily Mail has reported.
Her mother Safiya, a primary school dinner lady, and father Mohammed, a youth worker, both from Somalia, are said to be devastated and “really confused” at her disappearance. They have said that they have “no idea” where she is, and pleaded “Please come back, we just want you to be safe”. Yusra has three brothers and a baby sister, all of whom were, like Yusra, born in the UK and are British citizens.
Their local councillor Hibaq Jama delivered a statement to the media on their behalf, saying “You’re not in any trouble, we just want you to be safe. Come home as soon as possible.”
Speaking on her own behalf she added “It is really important to understand that at the heart of it is a grieving mother and a grieving father who, as yet, have no idea where their 15-year-old daughter is.
“What we know about [Yusra] is that she is an incredibly bright, incredibly articulate, popular, gifted young lady who was admired by, and very much looked up to, by her peers.
“She was doing very well in school, she is in year 11 and has started that final year of her education. She was very aspirational, wanting to go on and become a dentist, so it has come as a complete shock to the parents.
“This has also come as a shock to the community who are now understandably asking questions about the fact that if she, as a 15-year-old girl from this community – very articulate, very well accomplished – has disappeared then there are understandably concerns for others as well.”
Ujima, a Bristol community radio station today reported that Yusra has travelled from Bristol to Heathrow by bus. A spokesman for Scotland Yard has confirmed they believe that at Heathrow she met a 17 year old girl from Lambeth, South London, and that the two together flew to Istanbul, Turkey, with plans to go on to Syria.
Louisa Rolfe, assistant chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, spoke to reporters, saying “Since she was reported missing by her parents, we’ve carried out extensive work to trace her footsteps from the time she left home to her arrival in Istanbul, Turkey.
“There are indications she may have been radicalised but at the moment our priority is to find her before she crosses the border to Syria and make sure she is safe.
“We must all be vigilant and ready to spot the signs of radicalisation. Often, young Muslims who go to Syria can be naive and don’t recognise that they are being sucked into joining extremist groups.
“This is not about criminalising these young people, it’s about preventing tragedies.”
Haras Rafiq, an outreach officer for the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, has told Good Morning Britain that in all likelihood the girls had left with romantic notions of becoming brides to Islamic fighters. He said “We suspect what’s happened is that she met up with somebody here in London, she travelled from Bristol to London, so she already had this romantic notion.
“It’s more than likely that she will actually go and become a jihadi bride. She at the age of 15 will marry somebody who she considers to be a holy warrior and that’s how she will play a part in the jihad.”
The Daily Mail spoke to a number of her friends, who described her as “very religious”, “very intelligent”, and “a really nice girl”. None of them had noticed signs of her becoming radicalised.
A neighbour said of Safiya, Yusra’s mother “She is very nice – they are a very hard-working family and get on with everyone.” Another neighbour, Gloria Maloney who has lived on the street for 40 years said “It’s a very nice family. The husband is always there for his kids – he is always taking them to the shops.”
As soon as she heard the news, Mrs Maloney went to comfort the family: “I gave the dad a hug. He said that he was still worried. He didn’t speak much. I told him I would pray for her. The wife was crying. The family was in shock.”
Yusra and her travelling partner are following in the footsteps of around 50 young girls and women who are understood to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to support jihadi fighters. Together they make up ten percent of the 500 or so British people who have gone to support Islamic militants. Many of the women head for the Syrian city of Raqqa, where they are understood to be influential in the Al-Khanssaa brigade, a police force tasked with enforcing Sharia law in the city.
Home secretary Theresa May has promised to crack down on fighters returning to the UK, by introducing new measures to strip duel nationals of British citizenship and prosecute those who return. Speaking at a recent campaign launch, she said “I’m very clear that in relation to people who go to Syria and return to the UK with terrorist intent, then of course the government will take appropriate action.
“What we’ve seen in Syria is a terrible humanitarian tragedy… there will be people who will be travelling to Syria to give what they believe to be help. But the message from Syria is very clear: Syrians do not want people coming in to Syria.
“What the Families Matter campaign is doing, is saying to young people: think of the anguish you will create for your family if you go out to Syria, they don’t know where you are, you might get caught up in the fighting.
“If you want to help, there are better ways to help the people of Syria from here within the United Kingdom”.