Review urged after death of British girl who joined Isis

Kadiza Sultana had become disillusioned with life under Islamic State control in Syria

A CCTV image from February 2015 showing British teenagers Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum at Gatwick Airport before flying to Turkey to join Isis. Photograph:  Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

A CCTV image from February 2015 showing British teenagers Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum at Gatwick Airport before flying to Turkey to join Isis. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

 

The death in an air strike of a radicalised schoolgirl who fled Britain last year to join Islamic State in Syria should prompt a full review of Prevent, the British government’s counter-terrorism strategy, an MP has said.

Kadiza Sultana, who left her home in Bethnal Green, east London, during the half-term break in February 2015 with friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, is reported to have died in the terror group’s stronghold of Raqqa in May this year.

Tasnime Akunjee, solicitor for the family, said they believed Sultana had been killed, probably several weeks ago.

The three schoolgirls, aged 15 and 16 when they caught a flight from Gatwick to Turkey and a bus to the Syrian border, were gifted students at the Bethnal Green academy. They were lured by Islamic State – also known as Isis – propaganda, abandoning their A-level courses and families to marry jihadis in Syria.

Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 she had deep concerns about Prevent, which funds local authority schemes aimed at preventing people becoming involved in extremism.

“Many have concerns about how Prevent is being implemented, concerns about young Muslims being stigmatised. There needs to be a balance struck to protect young people, to prevent them from being radicalised, but also making sure teachers and other agencies have the proper advice training and support,” she said.

“I have huge concerns about some of the ways in which it’s implemented; some of it can be quite misguided. The government needs to do a proper assessment of what’s working and what’s not and listen to the Muslim community and the dangers the Muslim community face.”

Sultana had become disillusioned with life in Raqqa and had been planning to attempt to make her way back across the border and eventually to Britain, according to ITV News, which first revealed she had died.

Escape plan

The teenager is believed to have been inside a residential building when it was hit by an air strike, probably from a Russian bomber, ITV News said.

Mr Akunjee said: “The family are devastated. A number of sources have said that she has been killed and she has not been in contact with the family for several weeks. Over a year ago, she had been talking about leaving. There was a plan to get her out.”

The plan to extract the teenager is understood not to have involved the British and Turkish authorities. One massive dilemma any Islamic State recruit who wants to leave faces is the brutal revenge the group will exact if they are captured. One European female caught trying to flee is reported to have been publicly beaten to death by Isis.

The UK Foreign Office said it could not confirm the report of Sultana’s death. “The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria,” it said in a statement. “As all UK consular services there are suspended, it is extremely difficult to confirm the status and whereabouts of British nationals in Syria. Anyone who does travel to these areas, for whatever reason, is putting themselves in considerable danger.”

Sara Khan, founder of Inspire, a counter-terrorism organisation, likened Sultana to a victim of sexual grooming online.

“She by default was vulnerable,” Khan told the Today programme. “She was groomed online – very similar to sexual grooming online, so we don’t know what would have happened in her situation had she returned, but I think we do know that it would have been a case-by-case scenario.

“I do see her as a victim because she’s not an adult. I’ve come across numerous cases of young girls, girls as young as the age of 13, who have been radicalised online or within communities.”

The loss of the three girls , who followed a friend who had earlier left for Syria , was a severe blow to the Muslim community in east London and a powerful indication of how strong the lure of Islamic State can be.

They plotted the trip together, according to material recovered by investigators, making a shopping list of items to take with them and then deceiving their families.

The items for their escape to Syria ranged from a mobile phone to underwear, makeup and an epilator. Plane tickets to Turkey are listed at just over £1,000. The list appears to be consistent with an Isis online guide for potential recruits.

All four girls married fighters approved by Islamic State – including an Australian and a US national – and two became widows within months of arriving in Syria, their families were told.

In March last year, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said the teenagers could return home without fear of being prosecuted for terrorism, as long as no evidence emerged of them being engaged in violence.

Guardian service