Syria girls 'took family jewellery'
Three schoolgirls who fled to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) are believed to have funded their travel by stealing jewellery from relatives, MPs have been told.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15-year-old Amira Abase flew from Gatwick to Istanbul on February 17 and are feared to have continued to Syria to become so-called "jihadi brides" with IS militants.
The three girls paid more than £1,000 in cash to a travel agent for their flights to Turkey, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard.
Asked how they raised the funds, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the national police lead for counter-terrorism, told the Committee: "We think it's linked to theft from families.
"We think it's linked to taking jewellery from one of their family members."
The families of the girls swiftly denied the police claims.
Renu Begum, Shamima's sister, told ITV News that "we haven't lost £2,000 worth of jewellery" adding that the value of a number of a missing bangles which her sister had worn to a wedding was of "more sentimental value".
Fahmida Aziz, Kadiza's cousin, estimated that the piece of jewellery she took "is not worth £150".
She said: "I really hope the police would now make it their business to establish where these funds came from because it clearly wasn't from home."
Kadiza's sister Halima Khanom said: "My sister used to borrow a piece of jewellery off my daughters that was very sentimental to her, and that's what she's taken, and value-wise that's not something that she could've funded for her trip - that is not.
"I feel there is someone out there helping in terms of funding, because there's no way my sister has got the cash to fund herself."
The families had said there was no indications the girls had been radicalised, with Shamima's sister Sahima Begum pointing out that her sister "was into normal teenage things" and used to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Earlier, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe apologised for failing to communicate more directly with the girls' families - but insisted there was nothing more the force could have done to stop them from leaving.
The three teenagers were among seven schoolgirls who were handed letters by the police about another 15-year-old who ran away to Syria in December.
Appearing before the same MPs, Sir Bernard said: "First of all we're sorry if the family feel like that, clearly it's a terrible situation they find themselves in, having lost their daughters in such a horrible way.
"You can only half imagine what a parent is going through at this time. In that sense, I'm sorry they're in that situation.
"Also sorry the letter we intended to get through, didn't get through. It's clear that failed. It was intended for them and failed and for that of course we're sorry.
"I don't think we would go as far as saying therefore that caused the girls to go.
"There was nothing more we could have done to prevent that. Because at the beginning we were trying to get from these girls information about a further young woman who had actually left in December that was our principle reason for talking to that family.
"In hindsight, we now know that these girls were planning to go and neither the family, the police, the school nor anyone else realised that."
Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali later said police had "major lessons to learn" after it emerged that the letters to the girls' parents had been hidden in schoolbooks in their bedroom and were not found until after they ran away.
Describing it as "a basic breakdown in communication", she told the BBC: "These families rightly feel that they would at least have had a chance to be warned of a potential danger to their children, and could have had a chance to ask questions and get to the bottom of what's going on. They never had that chance."
Turkish ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgic said British delays in handing over information about the girls had slowed down action in his country.
Despite the girls boarding a flight on Tuesday February 17, Turkish embassy officials were only informed at 7.55pm the next day by email, which was picked up the following day, he said.
Details of the case were only published on the Interpol database on the following Sunday, the committee was told.
Mr Bilgic said: "I think the primary obligation is on the shoulders of the source country because they should be stopped at the source country before exiting the country."