POLICE need to “sharpen their act” in contacting Turkish authorities, senior MP Keith Vaz has said after meeting the husbands of three Bradford women thought to be in Syria with their nine children.
Vaz, chair of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, met two of the husbands, Mohammed Shoaib, 39, and Akhtar Iqbal, 48, on Monday (22). They made a heart-rending appeal last week for their wives and children to come back home.
Sisters Sugra Dawood, 34, Zohra Dawood, 33, and Khadija Dawood, 30, travelled with their children, aged three to 15, on May 28 to Medina in Saudi Arabia for an Islamic pilgrimage.
They were due to return to Bradford on June 11, but broke off all contact with their family back in Britain two days earlier. An Islamic State (IS) smuggler told the BBC they have reached Syria.
Lawyers for the husbands had written to Vaz and the home and foreign secretaries placing blame on the police for promoting the radicalisation of the sisters.
“Indeed, we are alarmed by the fact the police have been actively promoting and encouraging contact with the brother-in-law of our client whom, it is believed, is fighting in Syria,” said the letter.
“It would appear there has been a reckless disregard as to the consequences of any such contact on the families of those whom we represent.”
Following the meeting with the husbands in Westminster, Vaz said: “They are clearly heartbroken. “First of all, there needs to be clear lines of communication between the police and the families.
“They need to meet at a very senior level with the police to try and get as much information as possible – information that can be shared with the family that isn’t operational.
“Second, it is very clear we have four missing days from the family arriving in Istanbul and then crossing the border between Turkey and Syria.
“And I still think we need to sharpen up our act as far as contacting the Turkish authorities are concerned. Turkey has always been very responsive but there’s still this desire to send emails. Well, you know, you can’t.”
The Leicester MP compared the case of three school friends, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, who left east London and crossed into an IS-controlled area of Syria.
Two A-grade schoolboys from west London were also intercepted by police in Turkey as they tried to make their way to the war-torn country.
”We are dealing now with life-and-death situations where you have to pick up a phone, a hotline, between the United Kingdom and Istanbul, and tell the authorities that people are missing, get photographs to them as soon as possible.
“This repeats a pattern we’ve seen before with Bethnal Green and the three young girls there, which was not followed in Brent for the three young men because people acted very quickly.
“They made phone calls fast instead of sending emails, and therefore they were able to apprehend the three boys before they even landed in Istanbul.”
Vaz, who met counter terrorism officers on the day Eastern Eye went to press, added the criticism concerning the way in which the police have dealt with the allegations of radicalisation will need to be examined. “Of course, they deny that this was the case.
But I think this is something that needs to be cleared up between the family and police so that they’re reassured that this never happened,” he said.
Assistant chief constable Russ Foster said: “We completely reject accusations that the police were complicit in the alleged grooming of the missing family or that we were oppressive to them.”