Three Denver teenagers skipped school last Friday to join the Islamic State, according to officials. Leaving home with $2,000 in cash, the girls aged between 15 and 17 were located in Germany, after their families called the FBI claiming they feared that they were traveling to Turkey.
Two of the girls, of Somali descent, told their father that they were sick on Friday morning and couldn't attend school. When Ali Farah, 68, returned home later his daughters weren't there.
According to a runaway report that Farah filed with the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, a friend's parent then came over and said that his daughter, who is Sudanese-American, was also missing. She had taken her passport and Farah then discovered that his daughters' passports were gone too, along with the cash.
'It doesn't do anyone any good to jail three teenagers for this, but I think it would be really important to determine whether they were in contact with anybody.'
Asaad Ibrahim, the father of the third girl, said in the report that his child had always been a "good kid," and he had no real problems with her. He received a call from her school on Friday saying she wasn't in class, but when he called her she claimed she was just running late.
After discovering the girls had left home, their families called the FBI, who put a stop on their passports. They were flown back from Germany and detained by the authorities once they got back to Denver.
The three teens, reportedly aged 15, 16, and 17, had been researching their plan online for months, with the oldest girl acting as the instigator of the trip, CNN quoted US officials as saying. The FBI is now going investigating whether anyone was helping them.
A spokesperson for the Somali family, who would identify himself only as Asad, told the Denver Post that the family picked the girls up from Denver International Airport on Monday.
He also said that their parents still have their own questions about the girls' plans and were wary of the media attention. On how they planned their travel, Asad told the Post: "They bought the ticket. That's what we think. We don't know for sure. That's why we don't want to come out and make a statement."
Speaking to VICE News, former CIA analyst Aki Peritz said that there were still a lot of questions surrounding their trip. "We don't have all the information.. This is speculation on my part but there are flights from the United States that go directly to Turkey. Why didn't they go directly to Turkey? Why did they stop in Germany?"
'The Somali immigrant community here in Denver has been pretty shaken up by this.'
Peritz said that it was unlikely they would face prosecution. "I'm not quite sure what they'd be prosecuted for. It doesn't do anyone any good to jail three teenagers for this, but I think it would be really important to determine whether they were in contact with anybody who actually helped them."
Jesse Paul, a reporter at the Denver Post, told VICE News that "the Somali immigrant community here in Denver has been pretty shaken up by this. My colleague spoke to a lot of members yesterday and a lot of them were very concerned. One woman said she was worried about her own kids now. They're worried."
Paul also mentioned the case of 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley who was also arrested at Denver International Airport in April for apparently trying to join the Islamic State. "This is the fourth girl now in a matter of months that has been linked to the Islamic State in the Denver area, and, yes, the Denver area is a big place, but at the same time I think it's incredibly unusual to have four teenagers, let alone girls, trying to fly overseas and join this battle."
Peritz, an expert on counter-terrorism measures, said that there is very little that US authorities can do to identify teenagers who might be planning similar trips. "One of the issues is that teenagers and people in their 20s understand the internet and social media far better than their parents do. Does any parent really know what their kid is doing online? In my guess, probably not. And kids and people in their 20s are much better at hiding their tracks from their parents. And the parents are the ones who are really monitoring any child, more so than law enforcement ever will."
He added that young people are particularly susceptible to being manipulated and influenced. "Often people are searching for an identity. They might have decided to link up with a terrorist group for a variety of reasons, they might just sort of fallen into it and one thing leads to another. You're 15 years old and you're on a flight to Europe... Who isn't a troubled teenager? Who didn't have an identity crisis? Every single teenager has that problem."
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