The families of four British schoolgirls who fled the country to join the Isis terror group fear the girls might be dead. The four, who studied at the Bethnal Green Academy in east London, ran away to the group in Syria between 2014 and 2015 after successfully deceiving their families.
One of the girls is thought to have been killed in an air strike. The three remaining girls have not contacted their families in the past year, their relatives said. "They fear the worst but live in hope," lawyer Tasnime Akunjee, who has been representing the families, told the Sunday Times.
Sharmeena Begum, 15, was the first to flee to Syria after leaving east London at the end of 2014. She was later joined by Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum – not a relative of Sharmeena – and Amira Abase. Sultana is thought to have married a fighter from Somalia and reportedly wanted to return to the UK after her husband was killed in battle.
However, she is thought to have been killed in an air strike in the Syrian town of Raqqa in 2016. Isis seized the town in 2014 making it the de-facto capital of its self-declared Islamic Caliphate.
"I don't have a good feeling. I feel scared," the girl reportedly told a relative before her presumed death. Shamima Begum is thought to have married an American fighter and recruiter, who left her once she fell pregnant.
A British fighter who had met the girls in Raqqa, told the Sunday Times: "Her husband was American. I didn't see him, but he left her. He escaped and she was newly pregnant. This was maybe 1½ years ago." It is not clear whether she ever gave birth to her child.
Isis once controlled large swathes of Syria and Iraq but it is progressively losing territories following joint offensives in both countries.
Raqqa has witnessed intensified fighting in recent weeks after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition – started a campaign to recapture the city from Isis. Since Isis emerged in 2014, thousands of youths from several countries across Europe and the Middle East have fled their homes to join the group.
This includes a number of girls, such as 16-year-old German student Linda Wenzel, who fled her home in Dresden in eastern Germany, more than a year ago. She was captured by Iraqi forces in the besieged town of Mosul in July.
It is not clear whether she can return to her home or must face trial in Iraq, where she is at risk of being sentenced to death.