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MPs warn over number fleeing to IS

Increasing numbers of men, women and children will flee the UK to join Islamic State if more is not done to win the "hearts and minds" of those at risk of radicalisation, a group of MPs has warned.

Communication between police, schools and parents was in need of "vast improvement", the Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report on so-called foreign fighters.

An advice service targeted at parents who wished to seek advice or expressed concerns about radicalisation should be set up, the group of MPs said.

The comments come after three British schoolgirls - Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana - successfully fled to Syria to join Islamic State and after three teenage boys from Brent were stopped in Turkey as they attempted but failed to do the same.

The Metropolitan Police recently apologised for failing to communicate more directly with the missing girls' families, but insisted there was nothing more the force could have done to stop them from leaving.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "Radical groups from abroad are preying on young British citizens through social media to encourage them to travel abroad to join them.

"The number of cases being brought to public attention should ring alarm bells.

"Schools and the police must inform parents immediately, and work with them even if there is the smallest hint of radicalisation, or a close association with someone who is thought to have been radicalised.

"The lack of immediate action in the case of Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana should be seen in contrast with the speed with which police worked to return the three young men from Brent.

"This is evidence of how vital it is to work closely with communities, families and international partners to tackle this growing threat.

"This must be a relentless battle for hearts and minds, and without a strong counter-narrative we are in danger of failing to prevent even more departures.

"We are at the edge of a cliff."

The committee said social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook should take action when presented with evidence that users are seeking to promote violent extremism, such as suspending accounts.

However, the report concedes that "policing social media sites is impossible" and adds that young people must be given the skills needed to resist radicalisation online.

The report also calls on the Home Office to work with airlines serving so-called "destinations of concern" such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Nigeria to develop stricter controls for passengers travelling there.

The group of MPs also urged police to work faster to alert overseas partners and airlines.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: " We were not aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee was conducting a review into foreign fighters and were therefore surprised by its publication.

"We will look at the report in more detail and consider its findings however, we would have welcomed the opportunity to have given evidence to the Committee on the wider issues raised within it."

The spokesman also defended the speed with which the force responded to the disappearance of the three schoolgirls following the committee's "misleading" criticism.

He said the girls w ere reported missing on the Tuesday, and the following day the police contacted the liaison officer in the Turkish embassy in London and the British Consulate in Istanbul. An officer was on the ground in Turkey on Friday, he said.

"The report makes reference to the time taken by the British Embassy in Ankara to send details of the missing girls to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he said.

"Given the misleading accusation by the Committee that this, 'significantly reduced any chances of intercepting the girls on their journey while there was still time', we will be writing to remind them of the evidence given by both Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley and the Turkish ambassador in relation to the more rapid exchanges that took place operationally between UK police and the Turkish authorities."

A Home Office spokesman said: "People seeking to travel to Syria or Iraq for terrorist activity should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.

"Our priority is to dissuade people from travelling to these areas of conflict and the Prevent strategy is working to identify and support individuals at risk of radicalisation. The new legal duties we have introduced on public bodies including schools, police, prisons, councils and universities will help strengthen this work.

"The recent Counter Terrorism and Security Act has also added measures to disrupt travel including a new temporary passport seizure power. We continue to work with the airline industry to develop new arrangements to ensure that young people at risk are properly identified.

"We are taking comprehensive action, but we all need to work together. It's vital that if families are worried that a loved one may be at risk they should contact the police."

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