Leaving behind excellent grades and aspirations to become doctors, two 16-year old British twins from Somali background left their home in England to become jihadis in Syria.
The two girls, Salma and Zahra Halane, snuck out of their parents’ house in the middle of the night with passports, clothes and money in tow and boarded a flight to Turkey. From there, they crossed over the border to Syria.
British sources say they believe that the girls followed their older brother, who also left a promising academic career behind and left the UK to join the extremist militant group the Islamic State (formerly ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). The sources also say that the girls became radicalized through reading extremist Islamist ideology online.
Authorities are also questioning how the girls financed the trip, suspecting that it was paid for by jihadis who may have “brought” them as wives.
Most friends and neighbors were shocked to hear the news about the girls, who were described as typical teenagers who liked to shop and click selfies. A classmate was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying, “I’m shocked they have gone. They didn’t seem to be radical or extremist in their views.” However, another thought the move to Syria was “typical,” and that the girls had specifically waited until they had finished their school term. “They wouldn’t want to mess up their education,” she said.
The twins were in the top 10 per cent of their class at Whalley Range High School for Girls in Manchester. Their classmates said the girls wanted to become doctors like their older sister Hafsa, 25, who is now studying at a medical school in Denmark after attending university in the UK.
The Somali family was described as moderate Muslims aware of the perils of countries at war. Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadan Foundation, said of the twins’ parents, “They were desperately unhappy to discover [their son] had gone to Syria, and they thought they were keeping a watchful eye on their other children. Then this happens.”
Police have said that the twin’s brother had also travelled to the family’s native Somalia and said he may have joined Islamist terror group al-Shabaab there.
The stream of British citizens joining jihadi groups to fight in Syria is estimated at 1,500, causing much concern for homeland security officials if – and when – they decide to return to Britain.