UK investigates case of sisters travelled to Syria with children

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Zohra Dawood, Khadiga Bibi Dawood and Sugra Dawood, who are feared to have travelled to war-torn Syria. AP

The husbands of three British sisters who disappeared in the Middle East and are feared to have gone to Syria with their nine children broke down in tears Tuesday as they appealed for their families to come home.

Police are trying to establish the whereabouts of the Dawood family, from Bradford in northern England, who failed to return from a Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Their disappearance comes amid questions about how to tackle the radicalization of young people attracted to the Islamic State group’s slick propaganda campaigns.

Sisters Khadija, Sugra and Zohra Dawood, all in their 30s, travelled to Medina with their children, aged 3 to 15, on May 28. They were due to return on June 11, but broke off all contact on June 9.

“Please, please call me,” Akhtar Iqbal, husband of 34-year-old Sugra Dawood, sobbed as he appealed for her to come back along with their five children. “I miss you and I love you. I love you a lot. I can’t live without you.”

Iqbal made a direct televised appeal alongside Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of 30-year-old Kadija Dawood. The third sister’s husband does not live in Britain.

The sisters and their children were last seen at a hotel in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The family’s lawyer, Balaal Hussain Khan, said they are believed to have flown from there to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight.

A Turkish government official said the women and children arrived in Turkey on June 9. He said British officials notified Turkish authorities about their disappearance on June 12, after family members reported them missing.

The official said Turkish police are looking for them, in cooperation with British police. “They still haven’t been found,” the official said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.

Khan said the relatives in Britain felt “helpless.” He said the sisters had no known contacts in Turkey and it’s feared they have met up with a relative fighting with IS or another extremist group in Syria.

Police said the North East Counterterrorism Unit was leading the investigation into the missing family. The unit said it was “keeping an open mind” about the case, but “the possibility of the family attempting to travel to Syria is being explored.”

Scores of British citizens — including families with children and unaccompanied teenagers as young as 15 — have tried to reach areas of Syria controlled by the Islamic State group in recent months. Some have apparently succeeded, while others have been detained in Turkey and arrested.

Agencies 

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