Turkish police searched Monday for three missing British schoolgirls believed to be headed to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group as their frightened families issued urgent pleas begging the girls to return home.
The girls, from the same east London school, disappeared last Tuesday without leaving any messages. Authorities said they boarded a Turkish Airlines plane to Istanbul.
The relatives of Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, broke down in tears as they spoke of their fears in televised interviews on British media.
The case has captured wide attention in Britain, where authorities say at least 500 people have left for Syria to join extremists and fear they pose a terrorism threat when they return.
The girls took advantage of lax regulations governing international air travel for unaccompanied minors, which makes it relatively easy for teens to travel without parental permission.
Many major airlines place no restrictions on children over 12. The Turkish Airlines website states written permission is needed for children between seven and 12 to travel unaccompanied, but does not mention rules for children over 12.
European Union officials have discussed tightening these rules in recent months.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said Monday that Turkish and British authorities were working diligently to locate the girls.