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Appeal to 'Syria-bound family'

A missing Muslim family including four young children are feared to be on their way to Syria, police have said.

Father Asif Malik, mother Sara Kiran and four children aged between seven and one were seen boarding a ferry from Dover to Calais before travelling south through Europe by train, according to Thames Valley Police.

Members of Mr Malik's family tonight issued a desperate plea for the six to return home.

In a statement released through Thames Valley Police, they said: "With the reality that our loved one Asif Malik and his family have left the UK without any notice, our lives have been completely devastated.

"We are totally distraught, upset and in shock. The greatest sadness is the decision by Asif and Sara to travel with their young family, such beautiful children."

In what will be seen as a direct plea to Mr Malik, the family said: " Please Asif, we ask you to think about what has happened and the decisions you have made.

"Please can you ring us or send us a message to let us know that you and the children are well. All we wish for is your safe return and especially the return of the children. We are not angry with you, we are just heartbroken."

It comes as police released new CCTV images of the family in Dover. The six have not been seen in England since the early hours of April 8.

Police are stressing it is still a missing persons inquiry, but are deeply concerned the direction of travel appears to be towards Syria where brutal jihadi group Islamic State (Isil) are fighting to establish a Muslim caliphate.

Deputy Chief Constable John Campbell said: "I think its legitimate for us to hope for the best, but fear for the worst."

He added the force would be "happy to be proved wrong", and urged the family to make contact and put any concerns to rest.

Police have now revealed Mr Malik had previously told wider family "he would like to live in a Muslim country", said Mr Campbell.

Pressed on whether the 31-year-old had ever voiced a wish to live in a caliphate state, he replied: "I didn't say that - I said a Muslim country."

Mr Malik's partner is 29, and the couple have a seven-year-old daughter named Zoha Malik, and sons; Essa Malik, four, Zakariya Malik, two, and Yhaya Malik, one.

Officers think the group caught the 12.30am ferry from Dover 11 days ago, and might have travelled across Europe, by train, and through Budapest on or around Sunday, April 12.

Mr Campbell said: "Given the online rhetoric from the Islamic State encouraging people to travel to Syria, the direction of travel and concerns voiced by Asif's family, we are concerned the family may be seeking to travel to Syria."

He added: "I'm not suggesting they're intending to join IS.

"I don't think there's anything we would say that would suggest that.

"We have a family of four young children that have not been seen or heard of, since the 7th (of April) .

"That is highly unusual."

The family left Slough during the half term but without mentioning any holiday or travel plans to wider family members, which is entirely out of character for this family, he said.

In a statement issued tonight, Mr Malik's family asked those "considering leaving the UK" for Syria to "please consider the impact on the family members that you leave behind".

Police inquiries have revealed the family's "general direction of travel is towards Turkey", and "potentially towards Syria".

Mr Campbell said: "There's been a suggestion that Asif in the past has said he would like to live in a Muslim country."

Speaking at a press conference, he added: "That combination of factors - the lack of contact, the length of time, the direction of travel and concerns voiced by the family - some of that on their own reflection - that's why we're making a reasonable assumption that they are potentially heading towards Syria."

Police have also admitted they may be too late to stop Mr Malik and his family, given the time that has elapsed since the British passport holders left the UK - they were only reported missing on Thursday, April 16.

"We're concerned about the gap between the time when they left the UK, on April 8, and the time on the 12th in Budapest," said Mr Campbell.

"There is a concern that if that was their intention, and we're making an assumption that it was, that they may have already travelled or be in Syria."

He said it was Mr Malik's family who reported them missing, but that "there was no suggestion from the family that they thought they were going towards Syria".

Mr Campbell said the police were not aware of any social services contact with the children, prior to their parents taking them abroad.

"There's certainly no suggestion the children are under any kind of threat or risk from parents," he said.

"There's nothing to suggest that Mum and Dad are anything but absolutely loving parents.

"It's the circumstances that is the cause for concern."

He said police were "reaching out" to Mr Malik and his partner to make contact as soon as possible, and allay any concerns about their possible intentions.

Mr Campbell also confirmed police had spoken to the Turkish authorities, and were working with police in Europe.

"We would urge anyone with information about the family's whereabouts to come forward and speak to police so the family can safely return to the UK," added Mr Campbell.

Police also want to hear from anyone who saw the group at Dover, Calais, or on the ferry.

Mr Campbell 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 themselves Islamic State. It is an extremely dangerous place and not a place where young children should be taken.

"The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their loved ones' safe return.

"Asif and Sara need to know their family are very concerned and want them to return to the UK."

Anyone with any information about where the family are should call Thames Valley Police on 101. The freephone Anti-Terrorist Hotline number is 0800 789 321.


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