LONDON (AP) — British police, under pressure to stem the flow of would-be militants eager to join the Islamic State group, on Monday arrested an 18-year-old man suspected of planning to travel to Syria. Hours earlier, they freed on bail three other U.K. teens detained in Turkey, allegedly on their way to link up with the extremist group.
The arrests are signs of increasingly strenuous efforts by police to stop the flow of radicalized young Britons to the Middle East. Detectives have been criticized for failing to prevent three 15- and 16-year-old London girls from making the same journey last month.
West Midlands Police said the 18-year-old, whose name wasn’t released, was arrested early Monday at his home after police received a tipoff.
Three other youths — two aged 17 and a 19-year-old — were arrested at an Istanbul airport after their London families contacted police when they failed to return from Friday prayers.
Police alerted Turkish authorities, who intercepted the teens and returned them to Britain. The three were questioned on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts, and were let out on bail late Sunday until May pending further police inquiries.
Police declined to say whether the teens’ passports had been seized, saying they didn’t disclose bail conditions.
Scotland Yard believes at least 600 Britons have traveled to join IS militants, including a growing number of women. Police say 22 women and girls have been reported missing in the past year by families who fear they have gone to Syria.
The latest arrests contrast with the fate of three teenage girls who left Britain a month ago to become so-called jihadi brides. Their families have accused British police of failing to act quickly once they reported the girls missing. Turkish authorities have said they weren’t told about the teens in time to stop them from crossing into Syria.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has said the girls won’t be charged with terrorism offenses if they come home. His statement seemed to indicate a shift in message, after several cases in which would-be militants whose families cooperated with authorities received long prison sentences.
Earlier this month, Manchester teacher Jamshed Javeed received a six-year sentence for planning to travel to Syria to fight. He was arrested after his family pleaded with him, hid his passport and even gave police a recording of him vowing to go to Syria.
Counterterrorism police Monday launched a campaign of leaflets and radio and print ads, urging Muslim mothers to talk to their daughters about their online activity and their feelings about the war in Syria.
The force said it hoped the campaign would help families notice early warning signals and contact police or anti-radicalization charities before their children went on the run.
Helen Ball, the national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said girls were being lured to Syria by clever recruiters, only to find a lifestyle “far from that promoted online by terrorist groups.”
“The option of returning home is often taken away from them, leaving families at home devastated and with very few options to secure a safe return for their loved one,” she said.
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