Missing Bradford sisters: Mother 'didn't want children to grow up in UK'

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Media captionThe friend, who does not wish to be named, told the BBC that Zohra Dawood (seen on the left) said she "didn't like the UK"

One of three sisters believed to have taken their children to Syria "didn't want her daughters to grow up in England", a friend of hers has said.

The woman, who asked not to be named, told the BBC Zohra Dawood "didn't like the UK" and thought England was becoming "more like America".

Ms Dawood and her sisters Khadija and Sugra, all from Bradford, went missing along with their nine children.

Earlier an Islamic State (IS) smuggler said they had now reached Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking at a security conference in Slovakia, warned of the dangers posed by those who "quietly condone" Islamic State militants' extremist ideology.

The friend of Zohra Dawood, who wanted to remain anonymous because she said she feared for her life, said the mother told her: "I don't want my children living in this society."

The friend added: "She says she wants to live in Saudi Arabia because she didn't like the UK."

'Happy children'

Asked if she challenged Zohra over her views, the friend said: "No because by then Zohra completely ignored us. She didn't talk to anyone. I don't know what she was thinking."

The friend also appealed for the return of the children.

"Why has she taken them into a war zone? They were perfectly happy children. We're all worried for the children," she said.

The women's brother is understood to be fighting with extremists in Syria. When asked who convinced Zohra to go to Syria, the friend said: "I think her brother - and she convinced her sisters to do the same to help their brother out."

The friend also said she was "shocked" to hear Sugra's son Ibrahim Iqbal, 14, say: "I'm going to Syria to fight."

The sisters and their children went missing after travelling to Saudi Arabia for a religious pilgrimage on 28 May.

Instead of flying home as their families expected, the group went missing and apparently flew to Turkey.

On Tuesday, two of their husbands made an emotional appeal for them to return.

But the IS smuggler told BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood they then split into two groups to cross the border into Syria.

He said the first group went early on Wednesday and the second on Thursday.

The information fits with the news that Zohra sent a message to her family that she was inside Syria - but did not say exactly where.

It is believed the group missed a previous flight to Saudi Arabia in March after being questioned by security officials.

The North East Counter Terrorism Unit said it was "continuing to make extensive enquiries" in order to try to bring the women and children home.

Prayers were said for the family at their local mosque in Bradford on Friday.

In his speech earlier, Mr Cameron highlighted the role families and communities can play in countering radicalisation.

He said there were some members of the Muslim community who "don't go as far as advocating violence" but who "buy into some of these prejudices" of Islamist extremist ideology.

Mr Cameron said this "paves the way for young people to turn simmering prejudice into murderous intent".

The smugglers network

Image copyright AP

By Paul Wood, BBC Middle East correspondent

Every armed group in Syria has its own network of smugglers - and the so-called Islamic State is no different.

They move people - and sometimes cash and weapons - across the border for profit and for the cause.

Like all smugglers, IS uses a network of safe houses along the border, though the area of border open to them has been shrinking as they lose territory to a Kurdish military advance, backed by US airstrikes.

The Turkish security forces occasionally shoot, and kill, people crossing the border illegally, but most crossings are uneventful with many smugglers coming to "an arrangement" with the Turkish border guards.

Once inside Islamic State territory, however, the women and their children will not be allowed to leave.

I spoke to an activist who runs a secret network trying to get disenchanted jihadis out of the so-called caliphate.

He told me some 400 had been killed trying to leave - and that 200 women were under house arrest.

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