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UK MPs summon Turkish ambassador over British girls travelling to Syria

British MPs plan to interview the Turkish ambassador in London about British youngsters travelling through Turkey to join Islamic State in Syria

Marwan Sultan in London , Thursday 26 Feb 2015
Abdurrahman Bilgiç
Abdurrahman Bilgiç (Photo: Turkish embassy in London Facebook page)
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The Turkish ambassador to the UK has been called to testify before an influential group of British MPs about westerners travelling through Turkey to join the Islamic State militant group in Syria.

Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has called Abdurrahman Bilgic, as well as Turkish Airlines chief executive Temel Kotil, to testify on the issue of youngsters using Turkey as a route to the fighting zones in Syria.

Both Turkish officials will appear before the Committee on 10 March, Keith Vaz, chairman of HASC, announced.

This step comes while the tension develops between London and Ankara over the disappearance of three British Muslim teenagers who are believed to have flown on a Turkish Airways flight to Istanbul before heading to Syria to join IS, also known in the west as Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has also been called to give evidence.

On 17 February, Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, 15, boarded a Turkish Airlines flight from London’s Gatwick Airport to Istanbul. Since then they are being hunted in Turkey.

Vaz said “at least four girls" were able to fly from London to Turkey to join IS group.

“It is shocking that at least four girls have flown unaccompanied using Turkish Airlines as part of their journey to reach IS without the British authorities being alerted,” he said.

"Without taking serious and urgent action on an international scale, more and more brainwashed young people are likely to follow in these girls' footsteps,” Vaz added.

Turkey's Deputy PM Bulent Arinc claimed the British authorities informed their Turkish counterparts about the girls very late.

Arinc said: "It is a condemnable act for Britain to let three girls come to Istanbul and then let us know three days later.”

He accused London of “not taking the necessary measures.”

The search is ongoing in Turkey amid fears the girls might have already managed to cross into Syria.

Scotland Yard said counter-terrorism officers leading the investigation "now have reason to believe that they are no longer in Turkey and have crossed into Syria."

A spokesman added: "Officers continue to work closely with the Turkish authorities on this investigation."

"It would be great if we can find them. But if we can't, it is not us who will be responsible, but the British," Arnic said.

However, British Prime Minister David Cameron denied the Turkish official's claim that there was a delay in informing the authorities there about the girls.

"My understanding is that the police did respond relatively quickly in terms of informing the Turkish authorities and what the Turkish deputy prime minister has said about a three day delay is not accurate," he said.

In turn, Scotland Yard said: "Once we established that the girls had travelled to Turkey, police made contact with the foreign liaison officer at the Turkish Embassy in London on Wednesday, 18 February.”

Vaz said his committee would like to hear from both the chief executive of Turkish Airlines and the Turkish ambassador to hear their views on potential means of tackling this growing problem, of improving collaboration on an international level.

He hinted that a lot should be done in the UK to fight extremism and stop the spreading of radical ideas.

"I suspect the lessons will be not just we can tighten arrangements on aeroplanes and at our borders but also we all have a responsibility – schools, parents, families, communities, universities, colleges all have a responsibility to fight this poisonous radicalisation of young people's minds," he added.

The HASC, one of the most influential committees in the UK Parliament, is expected to publish a report after it has finished its investigation and the Government must respond to its recommendations.

The committee consists of 11 members from the three largest political parties in Parliament. Its task is to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Home Ministry and its associated public bodies.

Asked whether the ambassador will respond to the ASC request to testify, the Turkish press office in London told Ahram Online they could not deny or confirm. 

 

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