Three missing schoolgirls from east London, thought to have left the country to join the Islamic State group, are now believed to have crossed into Syria, police say.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: “Officers from the MPS Counter Terrorism Command (SO15), leading the investigation into the three missing schoolgirls from east London, now have reason to believe that they are no longer in Turkey and have crossed into Syria.
“Officers continue to work closely with the Turkish authorities on this investigation.”
The three girls, 16-year-old Kadiza Sultana and 15-year-olds Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, boarded a flight to Istanbul a week ago, and Turkey has criticised British authorities for taking too long to raise the alert.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc: “It is a condemnable act for Britain to let three girls … come to Istanbul and then let us know three days later. They haven’t taken the necessary measures.”
Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said British officials would be held responsible should their delay lead to a fruitless search for three London schoolgirls who boarded a flight for Istanbul a week ago.
It is not us who will be responsible, but the British Turkey’s deputy prime minister
Mr Arinc said: “It is a condemnable act for Britain to let three girls … come to Istanbul and then let us know three days later. They haven’t taken the necessary measures.”
“The search is ongoing, it would be great if we can find them,” he added. “But if we can’t, it is not us who will be responsible, but the British.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged airlines and internet companies to do more to prevent radicalised British teenagers from travelling to the Middle East.
The girls are all from east London and described as “straight A students”.
They left their homes before 8am on Tuesday, giving their families “plausible” reasons as to why they would be out for the day, police said.
Shamima Begum reportedly used the passport of her 17-year-old sister Aklima to leave the UK.
The headteacher of the girls’ school, Bethnal Green Academy, said there was no evidence students were radicalised at the school, despite four pupils reportedly joining IS in the last 12 months.
Mark Keary said pupils would have had no access to Twitter or Facebook whilst at school and said that pupils’ access to social media was “strictly regulated”, adding that it would be “business as usual” as students return from their half-term break.
Relatives of the missing girls have made urgent appeals for the teenagers to return home.
All three schoolgirls were previously spoken to by police officers investigating the disappearance of a 15-year-old Bethnal Green Academy pupil who was also believed to have travelled to IS-controlled territory in December.
But police said there was “nothing to suggest at the time” that the trio were at risk and their disappearance has “come as a great surprise, not least to their own families”.