Journey into ISIS hell and the UK intelligence link to the trafficker of teenage girls

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Yesterday we revealed how Mohammed Al Rashed, the Syrian who trafficked the three teenage girls from north London, had a double role and is alleged to have provided intelligence to a “British” contact – Matt – via the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Yesterday it was also revealed in the press that the parents of a fourth teenage girl who had travelled to Syria last December had specifically asked the British police to warn the parents of her friends, including the three girls (the police subsequently apologised for failing to properly carry out this request). In light of these developments we update the timeline of what happened to the three girls on their fateful journey into ISIS hell and raise some of the more pertinent questions re UK and Canadian intelligence links to Rashed.

Note: at the end of this article are two videos: one of Al Rashed accompanied by two Turkish police officers; the other Al Rashed’s own video of him with the three London girls.

In an odd kind of way what happened to Shamima Begum, age 15, Kadiza Sultana, age 16, and Amira Abase, age 15, the three girls who travelled to Syria via Turkey to join up with ISIS, is not that dissimilar to what happened to thousands of teenagers who became victims of child sex abuse (and about which even the Home Secretary has now warned how, to date, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of what has happened). The similarities are not just about grooming, abduction and exploitation, but the lack of joined-up care and the attitudes of the authorities to victims.

The victims of child sex abuse were not given sufficient credence because the vast majority were from working class backgrounds and from ‘broken’ or dysfunctional families – and so the police and, to some extent, social workers saw them as ‘slags’, ‘prostitutes’, etc, and not as vulnerable children. Similarly, the young, impressionable victims of jihadi grooming were not seen as vulnerable teenagers, exploited and lured into a war-zone culture of rape, beheading and massacres, but as willing participants, who did not deserve to be seen any differently because they were of Muslim heritage. With one, we see class discrimination, with the other, it is race.

Three girls out of the hundreds and thousands of victims of ISIS may seem numerically insignificant, but their fate and what happened to them and the failings that saw their disappearance raises many questions. These questions are not just about police and intelligence matters (see Section C, below) but also about the unseen fault lines that lie deep within society.

Over the last few months we witnessed the police and Government forced onto a learning curve in which patronising platitudes and Prime Ministerial fatwas gave way to more reasoned sensibilities. Nevertheless there are still plenty of dinosaurs out there – e.g. the Intelligence & Security Commission (ISC), as witnessed by its unimaginative and weasel-worded recent report and recommendations, which will see the retrospective legitimisation of bulk surveillance that has little to do with true intelligence-gathering (this is a journey into the unknown and esoteric world of subterfuge and surveillance that will impact on our daily lives, whether we like it or not).

But for the three north London girls, now in the custody of their ISIS captors, their journey has and is having an impact that may affect them for the rest of their lives…

A. Timeline of journey of three girls

The timeline below is as accurate as possible, based on reports so far…

December 2014: a young girl, Sharmeena Begum, who attended Bethnal Green Academy in London,  travels from the UK to Syria via Turkey without her parents’ knowledge. Her parents contact British police and request that they ensure the parents of their daughter’s online friends are warned to be vigilant in case these girls are also groomed by ISIS.

January 2015: British police make contact with Bethnal Green Academy and issue a letter to the parents of the three girls (who were close friends with Sharmeena Begum). However, instead of the letters going straight to the parents they ares handed to the three girls, who then hide the letters.

February 2015: the three girls – Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase – make preparations to travel to Syria. They use jewellery and other valuables to buy airline tickets and other travel needs. It’s likely that at this stage they transferred money to the bank account of a trafficker – probably Al Rashed. When booking their tickets, despite their age no queries are made as to their reason for travelling to Istanbul.

Day One of travel (February 17):

  • The three girls travel to the airport and on arrival check in at the Turkish airlines check-in desk. Again, no one queries their reason for travelling, even though they are not accompanied by an adult.
  • The three girls pass through Passport Control unchallenged.
  • The three girls board the aircraft and just over three hours later arrive at Istanbul. They pass through security unhindered. The three make their way to Bayrampasa bus station where they wait for the next bus that would take them to the Turkish-Syrian border town of Sanliurfa. They are captured on CCTV.
  • The parents of the three girls inform the British police that their daughters have gone missing and are suspected of having left the country.

Day Two of travel:

  • The three girls have remained in the bus station waiting area for 17 hours.
  • The British authorities issue an alert about the three girls to the Turkish Embassy in London.

Day three:

  • The three girls are at Sanliurfa and meet up with the trafficker, Al Rashed – also known as Dr. Mehmet Resit – who is a Syrian citizen. Their meeting is recorded on CCTV.
  • For some unexplained reason Al Rashed video records their meeting as he guides them on to the next stage of their journey en route to the border Syria (via bus to the town of Gaziantep).

Aftermath:

  • The Turkish authorities broadcast details of the three missing British girls (the Turkish police claim they were not contacted directly about the three girls until three days after they had gone missing.)
  • Precisely what next happened to the three girls is not yet known. It is presumed they crossed the border into Syria with the assistance of one or more of Al Rashed’s contacts.
  • Meanwhile the Turkish authorities have found the CCTV footage that showed the three girls waiting for their bus.
  • On February 28 the Turkish police detain Al Rashed. On his person they find incriminating video and other evidence that shows him meeting up with the three girls; also plane and bus tickets in the three girls’ names,

B. Intelligence links:

  • Al Rashed claims he has been working for CSIS (Canadian Secret Intelligence Service) and that he regularly visited their embassy in Amman (Jordan).
  • The Turkish police claim to have evidence that: a) Al Rashed has a UK bank account with money deposited from people with Arab names, and b) Al Rashed visited Jordan many times. They also claim to have screen shots of text messages that Al Rashed sent to the Canadian Embassy in Amman.
  • The CSIS issued a statement denying Al Rashed worked (directly) for them.
  • According to a Turkish television station the Turkish police claim that Al Rashed reported to a man called “Matt” in the Canadian Embassy in Amman but that Matt was British.

C. Five unanswered questions:

  1. Will the Canadian Government confirm that Al Rashed visited their embassy in Amman and on how many occasions, for what reason and to meet up with whom?
  2. Will the Canadian Government confirm that someone called “Matt” – who may be British – was based at or was a regular visitor to their embassy in Amman?
  3. Is this “Matt” working as an British intelligence agent, or is he merely passing on intelligence to MI6 or to an MI6 liaison officer?
  4. Did this “Matt”, or someone else at the Canadian embassy in Amman, pay Al Rashed money for information received?
  5. Was this “Matt”, or someone else at the Canadian embassy in Amman, aware that Al Rashed was involved in human trafficking across the Turkish/Syrian border?

A final question:

Given that the British police had tried – unsuccessfully – to warn the parents of the three girls that they might be in danger of travelling to Syria, why did the police not also issue an alert to the UK border authorities and the airlines to prevent the girls from trying to leave the country?

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6 Responses to Journey into ISIS hell and the UK intelligence link to the trafficker of teenage girls

  1. once a cop says:

    Many questions come to mind about this entire matter. My own are:

    1. Did the Begum family allow the police access to their daughter’s computer, phone or other devices? Assuming she left them behind. I have my doubts that the family remained silent within their own community. Did the father ever speak to the other families or school? I note the father calls for greater internet monitoring. Surely that is his responsibility first!
    2. How many letters did the police ask the school to send out? Somehow I doubt it was only the parents of the girls who later went missing. Even if the letters had been posted it is possible the girls could have intercepted those too.
    3. On 17/2/15 when the girls travelled it is very likely they would only have presented their passports and tickets to an airport airline agent and at security, where names are matched on passports and tickets. There is no such thing as ‘passport control’ (abolished by politicians some years ago, against advice from the police and others). Yes there CAN be police (known as Special Branch) checks, a question that I have yet to hear any official statement on. Too much reliance has been placed on Advanced Passenger Information (API) alerting the police to outbound travel. I would expect flights to Turkey often have unaccompanied children travelling, so the girls may not have stood out as unusual.
    4. Alerting the Turkish authories seems very confused. There are direct channels of communication for crime and security-related matters, mention of the Turkish Embassy is a “red herring”. When did this become a counter-terrorism matter, handled by the Metropolitan Police’s SO15? It is possible it was treated as a Missing Person matter so relied on using Interpol, given that Interpol is not a fast method of contact, the Turkish claim of a three day delay is plausible.
    5. Your final question now. Why no police alert before the girls left? API I have mentioned and the lack of a continuous border / passport control. One girl used an older sister’s passport (from recollection). Should we expect airline check-in agents and security staff (who are tasked to look for other suspicious or dangerous signs) to challenge such travellers?

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    • Undercover1 says:

      Clearly lots of lessons to be learnt. Early indications are that the police have learnt. With yesterday’s news re the three teenage boys who tried to get to Syria (but were intercepted at Istanbul and returned to UK): that the police have released them on bail shows a change in attitude.
      Re. your question 2: from various reports the letters were limited to the parents of the girls identified as close friends of the girl who had travelled earlier.
      Re. question 3: yes, you have correctly identified why the girls were allowed to travel.
      Re. question 4: Ditto. Reports, however, stated that SO15 did play a role, either direct or in support of regular police; similarly, reports stated the police contacted the Turkish Embassy (though this may have been more about protocol). All in all, confusion reigned.
      Re. question 5. The difficulty is always going to be how to balance the necessity of safeguarding vulnerable children on the one hand, while ensuring we don’t end up with a Big Brother approach from computers to international travel. This is a debate we all need to contribute to.

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