Recent years have shown a disturbing trend among teenage girls in the UK, and it has nothing to do with One Direction. Girls as young as 15-years-old have been reportedly running away from their families to join rebel group ISIS. This was the terrifying case for three British families this past month.
London teens Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, boarded a flight from London to Istanbul on February 17. Turkish television reported footage of the alleged girls getting on a bus in Istanbul headed for ISIS-occupied Syria. British counterterrorism efforts have tapped all media outlets in attempts to call the girls home, as have the families of the young women; unfortunately, to no avail.
It was recently discovered that one of the girls had reached out to an ISIS recruiter prior to their sudden departure. Aqsa Mahmood traveled to Syria two years ago from her home in Scotland. Now 20 years old, Mahmood has been accused of recruiting for ISIS via social media. The young woman’s family call their daughter’s beliefs “a perverted and evil distortion” of Islam, and are outraged with UK security services for not knowing the three girls contacted their daughter “because they understood that Aqsa’s social media content was being closely monitored,” CNN reported.
Mahmood and the three young girls are by no means alone. Britain’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball told The Mirror that this is a “growing problem,” with over 20 UK teen girls running away to join extremist groups in Syria last year. Ball calls for more authority to be given to airport officials, to be able to stop suspected girls from traveling to Syria. Begum, Sultana and Abase were able to get all the way to Istanbul unchecked.
These young women have fallen trap to extremist media campaigns aimed at recruiting younger soldiers and “jihadi brides.” United States counterterrorist officials explain that these campaigns prey on young, international Muslim women who, “have romantic fantasies about getting married,” and that “ISIS is known for marrying off their females.”
The officials stressed the serious danger confronting these young women; “ISIS has no qualms about arming young girls. It’s doesn’t matter how young they are. They will put guns in their hands.”
Women’s rights activist and fellow British Muslim woman Sara Khan felt the need to confront the issue of these young women fleeing to Syria and to try to reason with them from a place of understanding. Published on Inspire, “A letter to young Muslim girls if you are considering leaving the UK to join ISIS,” is Khan’s personal plea. In it, she sympathizes with what it is these girls are hoping for, which the Huffington Post reports as, “homes, husbands and connections to God.” In it, Khan writes:
“Just because your liars are cloaked in religious clothing, speak in a religious language, and claim to be speaking in God’s name does not change the simple fact that you are being lied to through a gross manipulation of the teachings of our faith. You are being lied to first and foremost about your religious duty as a Muslim but also about the reality of life under ISIS. And the thought of you destroying your life, for a pack of lies is what motivates me to write this letter. Because you deserve to know the truth and to live a fulfilled and happy life.”
While the fate of these young women are still unknown, both United States and British security forces are taking steps to prevent this trend from continuing.