Syria girls: UK trio 'picked up by IS men' - smuggler

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Media captionJames Reynolds meets a people smuggler who says he knows how the three UK schoolgirls crossed into Syria last week

Three British girls believed to have been smuggled into Syria from Turkey were met at the border by Islamic State militants, the BBC has learned.

One of the people smugglers, who called himself Ali Kathem, said the teenagers were driven to the border where they walked the few steps into Syria.

A group of waiting IS men "immediately picked them up with cars", he said.

Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, all from London, travelled to Istanbul on 17 February.

Scotland Yard confirmed on Tuesday that the schoolgirls were now thought to be in Syria.

Mr Kathem told BBC correspondent James Reynolds in Gaziantep, south east Turkey, that he was one of a well-established network of people smugglers affiliated with the Islamic State.

He said a smuggler drove the girls up to the border with Syria several days ago.

Image copyright Met Police
Image caption From left: Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum left the UK a week ago

"The distance is not far. As soon as they crossed into ISIS-held area, ISIS members were waiting for them," he said.

"One of the ISIS smugglers smuggled them in, and Abu Ali with his men received them on the other side."

He described Abu Ali as the local "Emir of ISIS" who controlled the border where the girls had crossed.

"No one [dares to] speaks to him. He opens or closes the route whenever he wants," he said.

"And he does whatever he wants to do. The Ali Muntar [local district] borders are in fact not under Turkey's control - Abu Ali runs the town."

'Girls crossed willingly'

Mr Kathem said he knew the driver and the vehicle used, and the information he had received was "100% confirmed".

"They were waiting at the border fence on the Syrian side - so as soon as the girls jumped out of the car, the ISIS men received them on the other side," he said.

"This is what I heard from the driver. They immediately picked them up with cars."

The girls had crossed willingly and were now "being hosted by a Syrian", he said.

Image caption The girls flew to Istanbul and are thought to have crossed into Syria at Kilis

"According to the information I have received it was their desire to go to Syria and join ISIS," he said.

"No-one forced them to do so. They wanted to go. This is what I know from my contacts."

He added that he believed IS would let the girls go if they wanted - and that he would be willing to drive them back to Turkey himself.

Sources have suggested the three girls, all "straight-A students" at Bethnal Green Academy in east London, entered the country near the Kilis border crossing five or six days ago.

They flew from Gatwick to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day.

A fourth girl from the school is believed to have travelled to Syria in December. The school has denied that they may have been radicalised at school.

The Metropolitan Police has said its officers are working closely with the Turkish authorities on the investigation.

UK police officers have also travelled to Turkey - although their role in the country has not been confirmed.

Relatives of the three girls have made emotional appeals for them to return, and said there were no signs they were planning to go to Syria.

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