Police stop girl heading to Syria after newspaper alert

Islamic State militants in 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption About 700 Britons are said to have travelled to Syria

A British schoolgirl's plan to travel to Syria to join Islamic State has been disrupted after an undercover newspaper investigation, police have said.

Scotland Yard said it was alerted to the "vulnerable" 16-year-old from east London by the Daily Mail.

Officers said they were working with her family and the local authority to ensure she was "kept safe from harm".

The home secretary said the case, which involved grooming via social media, showed the "threat" from IS.

According to the Mail, counter-terrorism officers attended the girl's family home on Wednesday.

The paper said she had intended to travel to the Syrian border, via Turkey and Switzerland, next week after her GCSE exams finished, in order to marry a jihadi fighting for IS.

It said a journalist posing as a 16-year-old girl had been involved in conversations online with the girl's older sister - described as a "groomer" for IS - who is already in Syria. She had been trying to persuade the reporter to accompany her sibling.

IS had used encrypted apps on smartphones to send detailed instructions, the paper reported.

'Stark reminder'

Commander Richard Walton, from the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism command, said: "We were made aware of a vulnerable young girl on Monday.

A BBC investigation has documented the Britons known to have died in Syria and Iraq, those convicted of offences relating to the conflict there and others believed to be living in territory controlled by Islamic State.

It includes the stories of:

  • 36 who are reported to have died
  • 15 who have been convicted by British courts
  • Many others who we have established are alive and active in Syria or Iraq

"Upon receiving the information officers acted promptly and were able to identify the girl concerned, and preventative steps have now been taken to do all we can to safeguard her."

He added: "This case is a frightening example of how quickly social media can be used to groom vulnerable young people... This is a stark reminder to parents and the community of the speed with which these cases can develop."

Home Secretary Theresa May said the incident showed the "seriousness of the threat" from IS.

She said: "The police and security service are working hard every day to keep our country safe, but it is up to all of us to stand united against extremism, support the pluralistic values that underpin our society, and stop young and vulnerable people from being drawn into this kind of trouble."

In February, three schoolgirls from east London travelled to Turkey before crossing the Syrian border to join the terrorist group. A friend had earlier made the same journey.

And last week, Scotland Yard said more than 700 Britons were thought to have travelled to Syria, with about half having returned to the UK. It said a "significant proportion" of those who made the journey intended to join IS.

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