On Tuesday night, three London schoolgirls left their homes and flew to Istanbul, Turkey. British authorities believe that the girls, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an unidentified 15-year-old, are traveling to the Syrian border where they plan to join ISIS. On Friday, British counter-terrorism police launched an international search for the girls.
The Guardian reports that the three girls were interviewed by police in December, when they were asked about a friend who had previously left England to become a "jihadi bride." At the time, police determined that there was "nothing to suggest at the time that the trio were at risk of emulating their friend, adding that their disappearance had come as a great surprise, not least to their own families."
David Cameron responded to the story with strong words, calling ISIS an "appalling death cult," he added:
"The fight against Islamist extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control," he said. "It needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognize they have a role to play."
It's currently estimated that women and girls account for 10% of those leaving the West to join jihadi groups like ISIS (roughly 550 women and girls). Recent studies have suggested that social media plays a strong role in recruiting young women into organizations like ISIS.
Also at The Guardian, reporter Shiv Malik writes:
...female jihadis have been tweeting and blogging in English on sites such as Tumblr for well over a year. Their references to cats, Nutella and the travails of home life read like many other discourses until you realise where they are posting from and what they are ultimately evangelising about.
A study released last month by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that women on the receiving end of that social media onslaught were captivated by the violence they saw. Examining the social media accounts of six European women who ultimately travelled to Syria and Iraq, they discovered that one described the brutal murder of the American aid worker Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian hostages as "gut-wrenchingly awesome".
Authorities believe that the girls are still in Turkey and remain hopeful that the girls can be recovered and reunited with their families.
Photo via the Metropolitan Police.