Relatives of three sisters and nine children feared to have travelled to Syria have complained that they are receiving no help from the police, leaving them to investigate the disappearances â€œoff their own backsâ€.
The husbands of the missing women are said to be distraught; their lawyer said they had been told there was only one British police officer in Turkey trying to prevent Britons from joining extremists in Syria and Iraq. Bradford police confirmed on Tuesday that the counter-terror unit is now leading on the case.
Balaal Khan, who is representing the husbands of the Dawood sisters, told the Guardian they had received no answers from detectives since reporting the 12 missing.
He said they had been forced to rely on their own inquiries but that was like â€œtrying to find a needle in a haystackâ€. There are growing fears that the women and children â€“ between three and 34 from Bradford â€“ have travelled to Syria after going missing following a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Khan said: â€œThey [the fathers] have grave concerns because the matter was reported on the 11th [of June]. Obviously today weâ€™re on the 16th and weâ€™ve had no answers. Unfortunately the information that we have about them travelling to Medina [in Saudi Arabia] were all done by family members. In fact, everything theyâ€™ve done is all off their own backs and itâ€™s quite sad really.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve been informed that thereâ€™s only one [police] officer [in Turkey] so what West Yorkshire police have to do is contact the Met police, who then contact the officer in Turkey, who Iâ€™m told is inundated with loads of inquiries and we were told that the officer doesnâ€™t have enough time.â€
Khan added: â€œThe family have said they need support, they need guidance, from police. So if it means travelling to Turkey we need to travel to Turkey â€“ but they donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re going to do. Itâ€™s like trying to find a needle in a haystack in Turkey.â€
Two of the womenâ€™s husbands are due to hold a press conference later on Tuesday, when more details will be released by the family.
Alyas Karmani, a local councillor for the Respect party, told the Guardian the sisters and their children were all Bradford born and bred but their parents came from the ultra-conservative Pathan community on the north-west frontier of Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
Karmani said he understood that British police knew the sistersâ€™ brother had gone to Syria two years ago and were monitoring the family.
At least two of the sisters had been unhappily married to Pathan men who came over to Bradford from Pakistan for arranged marriages, he said. The marriages were not a success, he said, adding that he believed that one of the sisters was now divorced and another estranged from her husband. It is thought these two husbands, or ex-husbands, raised the alarm when the women and children failed to return on 9 June.
Karmani said the sisters attended Arabic education classes in Bradford and were good students. â€œI spoke to someone who went to classes with them and they said the girls were really into their studies, very intelligent and always paid their course fees. They were very decent, apparently.
â€œI asked if they were ever talking about foreign policy or things like that, but apparently not. This whole thing doesnâ€™t seem planned. There was nothing that indicated they were going to abscond.â€
Scotland Yard confirmed that the counter-terror officer in Turkey had extremely limited scope and acted only in cooperation with the local authorities, and implied that families may have unrealistic expectations about what police can do once their relatives leave the UK.
â€œWe have no powers in that jurisdiction, we canâ€™t go over to other countries and start setting up offices,â€ a spokesperson said. â€œThe officerâ€™s job is to liaise with the Turkish authorities once he is given information and has built up good contacts with the relevant people in order to gain information for investigations here.
â€œWe rely on the Turkish police and we have a good relationship with them, which have had good results in a number of cases in recent weeks. But beyond that is not realistic.â€
Zulfi Karim, secretary of the Bradford Council for Mosques, advised caution before jumping to conclusions about where the women had gone and why. â€œSomething about this just doesnâ€™t add up to me,â€ he said. â€œHow would these women have been able to enter Saudi Arabia without their husbands or an adult male family member to act as a mahram [male familial chaperone]?â€
Two of the missing children are boys aged 14 and 15. It is disputed among Islamic scholars whether they would have been old enough to be a mahram.
Karim said the police had some explaining to do. â€œIf their brother is already in Syria then surely the police and the Prevent team in Bradford â€“ who are very, very active â€“ would have been monitoring them?â€
He also asked how the children were able to miss school without detection. The family left Britain on 28 May â€“ during the school half-term â€“ but the children should have returned to school on 6 June. Yet their fathers now claim they were not due back until 11 June.
â€œHow can it be that the children were allowed to miss school?â€ asked Karim. â€œIt just all doesnâ€™t fit right, all of this at the moment.â€
Fears for the missing families has prompted a political row over the causes of radicalisation. Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in cabinet, said on Tuesday that radicalisation of British Muslims represents a â€œgenerational challengeâ€ that the government was failing to tackle.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4â€™s Today programme, the former minister for faith and communities said her ex-colleagues were fuelling the problem by â€œdisengagingâ€ with Muslim communities.
Lady Warsi is from the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury and knew the family of 17-year-old Talha Asmal, who reportedly killed himself suicide attack in northern Iraq.
She said it was important to keep the problem of radicalisation in perspective, but added: â€œHaving spoken to Talhaâ€™s father, one person is one person too much.â€ She urged ministers to reach out to Muslim communities rather than disengage with groups as she said they have been doing for the last seven years.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: â€œWe are in contact with West Yorkshire police and Turkish authorities and are ready to provide consular assistance.â€
The Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, said she had spoken to two of the fathers and described them as â€œconfusedâ€, adding they had had no contact with the women or children.
She told BBC Breakfast: â€œI asked them if there was any indication and they said absolutely not â€“ it was a shock to them, it came out of the blue. The men are very, very distraught.â€