Bradford sisters: airport security checks disrupted previous flight plansThe Guardian
Three Dawood women believed to have taken their children to Syria missed flight to Saudi Arabia earlier this year because of clearance checks
Three sisters who are feared to have travelled to Syria with their nine children had tried to leave Britain earlier this year but their plans were disrupted by airport security checks, counter-terrorism police have said.
Khadija Dawood, 30, Sugra Dawood, 34, and Zohra Dawood, 33, whose children are aged between three and 15, are believed to have crossed the border into the conflict-torn country after one of the women made contact with her family on Wednesday.
The same group, who are all from Bradford, West Yorkshire, underwent security checks as they attempted to travel to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, the North East Counter-Terrorism Unit said, causing them to miss their flight. One source said the incident happened in March.
Mark Burns-Williamson, the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, said he had been in contact with his force’s chief officers and the regional counter-terrorism unit that covers his area. On the prior stopping of some of the women by police he said: “We need to understand if that has happened, what was the context, what was known, what was not known, and why are we now in this situation.”
Claims that counter-terrorism police had been closely monitoring the family since the departure of their brother, Ahmed, have raised questions about whether more could have been done to prevent the sisters from leaving.
Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, said she had spoken frequently to the bewildered husbands of the sisters and that many questions remained unanswered.
“If there’s truth in the claims the family was being monitored by the security services, there are a lot of unanswered questions for the security services and the police,” she said on her way for a briefing on the issue in Westminster.
It is believed the sisters are trying to meet one of their brothers in Syria, named by multiple sources as Ahmed Dawood. He is subject to an investigation by West Yorkshire police after he travelled to Syria up to two years ago to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
West Yorkshire police said earlier on Wednesday that one of the women had contacted the family and there was an indication that they were now in Syria, which is party controlled by Islamic State, and may not return.
Russ Foster, assistant chief constable, said: “We are concerned about anyone who has or is intending to travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling itself Islamic State. It is an extremely dangerous place and not a place where young children should be taken.”
After lunchtime prayers at the Shah Jalal mosque in Little Horton, near where some of the sisters lived, worshippers expressed their frustration with the family’s disappearance and the failure of the authorities to find them.
One man, who did not want to be named, said he had met Ahmed Dawood. “He’s a really nice chap,” he said. “Maybe he got brainwashed. Fighting for Isis goes totally against the teachings of our religion. We are totally against it. Why must these people give us a bad name?”
The missing family travelled to Saudi Arabia, apparently for an Islamic pilgrimage, on 28 May and had been due to return to the UK last Thursday. But all 12 members boarded a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, instead and had not been heard of since 9 June.
The sisters are part of a large family, all British Pakistanis who follow an ultra-conservative form of Islam. Their father, Muhammad Dawood, and his wife, Sara Begum, have at least nine children – two sons and seven daughters – all of them born in Bradford.
Mixed reports have emerged about the state of the relationships between the missing women and their husbands, with neighbours claiming they were unhappy. However, in a press conference on Tuesday two of the husbands said their marriages were perfect.
Zubair Ahmed, the estranged husband of Zohra, left for Pakistan last year having been was an imam at a local mosque, neighbours revealed.
He is said to have enjoyed living in Britain after moving from Pakistan when he married Zohra, but friends said the relationship turned sour and he chose not to return from his home country when she demanded a divorce.
“He was a really nice guy. He enjoyed it here,” said one neighbour who was a friend of Zubair. “He had trouble with the wife and he left his wife a long time ago then he went to Pakistan. He’s not coming back.”
Asked whether more could have been done to monitor the family, Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief at MI5 and MI6, told the Guardian that “a line has to be drawn somewhere” when watching people with suspected links to terror organisations.
“In some cases it’s a fine judgment,” he said. “We have to expect some things to be over-policed and some things to be under-policed.”