Sunday, July 21

British Muslim School girl Kadiza believed killed in Syria was too scared to flee Isis



A British school girl thought to have been killed in an airstrike in Syria was fearful of the risks involved in trying to rescue her from Islamic State and could not “make the leap of faith” needed to try to escape, sources have told the Guardian.

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 believed to have died in the terror group’s stronghold of Raqqa earlier this year.

Sultana is thought to have become disillusioned with life in Raqqa and had been considering attempting to make her way back to Britain.

But sources on Friday said the former Bethnal Green academy student feared the dangers of such a plan failing were too high, and that she would be caught and publicly executed, a fate that befell an Austrian woman who tried to flee Isis.

Kadiza Sultana Sultana would have been under extreme pressure to remain in the battered city after swearing a mandatory oath of allegiance to the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a counter-extremism expert said.

Fresh details of Sultana’s death came as Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said her fate should prompt a full review of Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Her family heard in late June that Sultana may be dead, following an airstrike that took place around 22 June and hit a building in which there was a financial office on the ground floor and Sultana’s flat above, sources said.

A friend of Sultana’s – who was the first of four girls from the Bethnal Green school to flee to Syria – is understood to have notified the family.

When considering a plan to flee Syria, one issue on Sultana’s mind would have been to enter Kurdish-controlled territory, which could be dangerous if the Kurds believed she was affiliated with Isis.

Haras Rafiq, managing director of counter-extremism thinktank Quilliam, said she would have also felt the weight of an oath – known as bayah or bayat – sworn to the terror group’s leader.

“When they get over there, the very first thing they have to do is to give bayah to Baghdadi,” he said.

“Giving bayah to Baghdadi is an oath of allegiance which can only broken by death. So once you join Isis, one you’ve given bayah, you can’t leave – you’re not allowed to leave.

“The only way you can leave is if you’re sent on a mission, or if you die.”

CCTV footage showing (left to right) Kadiza Sultana,16, Shamima Begum,15 and 15-year-old Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA

Rafiq said research showed that the majority of women who have fled to Syria – earlier this year counter-terror police said about 56 women and girls had travelled there from the UK – end up disillusioned with life under Isis rule.

“One of the biggest factors of disillusionment right now is the constant bombardment of airstrikes,” he said.

“The constant having to run, to hide, to retreat. It’s dangerous.”

He added: “People are dying and they’re seeing their friends die around them.”

Life under Isis also presents a cultural shock, he said. “When they go out there, they do feel they’re part of the cause. They have something, which they didn’t have here. They find that empowering and in some cases liberating.

“But then when there’s no TV, then when there’s no social media, then when there’s people who don’t speak English and you don’t speak Arabic, then you haven’t got the creature comforts you had at home, then you start feeling disillusioned.”

Ali, a Labour MP, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday that she had deep concerns about Prevent, which funds local authority schemes aimed at preventing people from 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.”

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 Isis 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 were 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 Isis – 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.