London, Feb 23: The worried families of three missing British schoolgirls believed to have fled to Syria to join the Islamic State on Monday made a moving plea to them to come back home as Scotland Yard sent its officers to search for them in Turkey.
The three girls, all 15 to 16 years old and students of of Bethnal Green Academy in east London, disappeared from their homes on Tuesday without leaving any messages.
Authorities said they have boarded a plane to Istanbul. The police officers confirmed that one of the runaways, 15-year-old Shamima Begum, used her older sister Aklima Begum's passport.
The other two girls are Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16. Amira's father, Abase Hussen, broke down in tears and said: "The message we have for Amira is to get back home. We miss you. We cannot stop crying. Please think twice. Don't go to Syria."
Holding a teddy bear Amira had given to her mother, Hussen added: "Remember how we love you. Your sister and brother cannot stop crying." In an appeal to Kadiza, her sister Halima Khanom said: "Find the courage in your heart to contact us and let us know that you are safe and you are OK. That is all we ask of you."
Shamima's sister, Renu Begum, said she hoped her sister had gone to Syria to bring back another girl from the same Bethnal Green Academy school who went there in December.
She added Shamima and her friends were "young" and "vulnerable" and if anyone had tried to persuade them to go to Syria it was a "cruel and evil" thing to do.
She said: "We don't want her to do anything stupid she is a sensible girl. We just want her home, we want her safe."
UK security services have been criticised after it emerged that - before leaving the UK - Shamima sent a Twitter message to Aqsa Mahmood, who left Glasgow for Syria in 2013 to marry an Islamic State fighter.
Mahmood, who was raised in Scotland, has been branded a "disgrace" by her family after it emerged that she may have enticed the younger women to join her. Through their lawyer, Mahood's family said they were "full of horror and anger" that she may have helped with the "recruitment of these young girls to IS".
Former Metropolitan Police commander Bob Milton said there was a counter-radicalisation programme at the school and the girls had been spoken to. "They had satisfied the person that they were no longer at risk but that clearly wasn't the case," he said.
A school spokesperson told reporters today that support was being offered to students and staff in the wake of the incident as students returned to the school after half-term holidays.
"Police confirmed that there is no evidence that the radicalisation of the missing students took place at the academy," a spokesperson for the east London school said at a briefing.
The three girls boarded a Turkish Airlines flight from Gatwick airport to Istanbul last week and were caught on CCTV on their way out of the UK.
The case has captured wide attention in Britain, where authorities have warned that the threat is growing from Britons travelling to Syria to fight with IS militants. Scotland Yard said its officers were working closely with Turkish authorities in their investigation.