London: Forty-three women and girls are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group as “jihadi brides” in the past year, UK police today said in its first official count of British women thought to be in the warzone. Security officials believe up to 700 people have gone to Syria from the UK to become involved in jihadist groups and about half have returned.
Met Police deputy assistant commissioner Helen Ball said women who travelled might never be able to return home.
Ball, the senior national coordinator for counter terrorism policing, said: “Syria is an extremely dangerous place – the reality of life there is far from the image that terrorist groups actively promote to young women here in the UK.
“Families and communities are terrified that their daughters may be lured into travelling there. In some cases the appeal for women and girls may be a belief that their life will hold more meaning if they travel.
“It may be a misplaced sense of glamour of marrying a fighter, or perceived difficulty as to how to reconcile their religion with modern life so that they feel compelled to follow, as they may see it, their religious obligation by joining other women in Syria.
“Stories of families who have suffered the devastating consequences of loved ones travelled to Syria are sadly becoming more common. These are young women who are highly unlikely ever to have the option of returning home.” Women who travel to Syria for jihadist reasons cannot get involved directly in fighting and are regularly married off to fighters.
There have been a string of high-profile appeals by British police in relation to the suspected travel of women to Syria – the most recent relating to the disappearance of a Bangladeshi family of 12 from Luton.
Last month, three sisters from Bradford left the city, taking their nine children with them. Among the first women known to have left the UK were Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow, Grace Dare from London and Sally Jones from Kent – all of whom travelled during 2013 before the group that calls itself Islamic State declared a caliphate.
The youngest girls known to have travelled independently are 15-year-old schoolgirls from east London who hid their plans from their parents.