Three sisters from Bradford and their nine children aged from three to 15 are today reported missing amid suspicion that they are attempting to reach either Islamic State (IS) or other extremist forces in Syria. Having last been heard of on 9 June the group failed to return home as planned two days later after their pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Reports that the group was hoping to reconnect with a brother said to be fighting with IS in Syria for the last two years have surfaced, but police have refused to speculate as to whether the women were in contact with any jihadis already there.
The Times reports that the family represents the largest group suspected of trying to reach Syria from Britain, fueling the belief that the estimated 700 Britons believed by authorities to have made their way to the warzone underestimates the full scale of the problem.
Lawyer Balaal Khan said that he had been instructed to alert the media by the family in Britain. He told ITV News that the fathers, two of whom are in the UK and one in Pakistan, were “distraught” and “crying”, not knowing “whether they were coming or going.” He passed on their message to their wives and children:
“We love you, we care for you, we want you back – please get in contact with us.”
Although 12 family members made the Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia on 28 May, an additional concern for the fathers is that flight logs only show ten of them boarding the flight from Medina to Istanbul, a commonly used path into Syria, on 9 April. Zohra Dawood’s eight and five year old children are not listed as having boarded that flight with the rest of the group.
West Yorkshire police are investigating in conjunction with Turkish authorities. They confirmed yesterday that having undertaken extensive inquiries alongside overseas authorities since learning of the situation last week, no sightings of the group in Turkey had been recorded. Making the task of tracing the group more complicated, since last Tuesday their mobile phones have been turned off and Facebook and WhatsApp profiles have not been updated.
The Guardian reports the family’s solicitor criticising the police, saying:
“We’ve been informed that there’s only one [police] officer [in Turkey] so what West Yorkshire police have to do is contact the Met police, who then contact the officer in Turkey, who I’m told is inundated with loads of inquiries and we were told that the officer doesn’t have enough time.”
Scotland Yard confirmed that the counter-terror officer in Turkey had extremely limited scope, acting only in cooperation with local authorities. A spokesperson explained that the British police “have no powers in that jurisdiction, we can’t go over to other countries and start setting up offices.”
Speaking to The Guardian, local Respect Party councillor Alyas Karmani shed some further light on the background to the situation. He said that although the sisters and their children were all Bradford born and bred, their parents came from the ultra-conservative Pathan community on the north-west frontier of Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
He said at least two of the sisters had been in unhappy arranged marriages to Pathan men from Pakistan – one of the sisters was now divorced and another estranged from her husband. The Guardian said these men raised the alarm.
This latest example of possible British jihadis follows two recent cases covered by Breitbart London. 17-year-old Talha Asmal, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, whose family is known to Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim to have served in the British Cabinet, was reported at the weekend to be Britain’s youngest suicide bomber. Earlier this week it was reported that Thomas Evans, a Muslim convert from Buckinghamshire, died fighting for the extremist group al-Shabaab in Kenya.