News and Views
The jihad sisters: Bubbly and exceptionally bright, these twins with 28 GCSEs were set to train as doctors. Now they’re in Syria ‘training to be killers’
- Twins Salma and Zahra Halane left their parents’ home in middle of night
- They then caught a flight to Turkey, before crossing the border to Syria
- Sisters appeared to be typical teenagers, pouting for selfies and shopping
- Now they are feared to be training for battle in footsteps of elder brother
Twin schoolgirls who followed their jihadi brother to Syria were hard-working students who hoped to train as doctors.
Sixteen-year-olds Salma and Zahra Halane, who last summer achieved 28 GCSEs between them, left their parents’ home in the middle of the night and caught a flight to Turkey, before crossing the border.
Police said the pair are thought to have followed their elder brother, who ditched his own ‘excellent’ academic career to join the ISIS terror group around a year ago.
Friends said the twins had appeared to be typical teenagers, pouting for selfies and shopping at Primark – but they are now feared to be training for battle.
Last night a rebel fighter boasted that he was teaching girls as young as 16 how to fight. Yilmaz, a Dutch national who has been in Syria for two years, told Sky News: ‘It’s extremely easy to get here. People go on holiday … they end up in Syria.’
The twins’ parents raised the alarm last month, after finding the girls’ beds empty and their passports and clothes missing.
A former neighbour said the couple had been ‘quite strict’, and did not allow the girls to ‘mix with other children on the street’. Others recalled that the twins wore headscarves when they were as young as nine. But Rhea Headlam, who sat next to Zahra in primary school, said they were ‘just normal teenage girls’.
‘I’m really shocked – I used to bump into them at Primark,’ she added. ‘They were both really clever.’
Last summer Salma achieved 13 GCSEs – 11 of them at grades A* to C – while Zahra passed 15, of which 12 were A*-C. The results put them in the top 10 per cent of their year group at Whalley Range High School for Girls in Manchester.
They went on to study at Connell Sixth Form College, where fellow students said they hoped to follow in the footsteps of their elder sister Hafsa, 25, who is at medical school in Denmark after graduating from Manchester University.
‘The twins both have aspirations to become doctors – that is their ambition,’ said one. Another claimed it was ‘typical’ of the girls to head to Syria ‘after they had finished term’, adding: ‘They wouldn’t want to mess up their education.
‘I’m shocked they have gone. They didn’t seem to be radical or extremist in their views.’
It emerged yesterday that the girls’ devoutly Muslim Somali refugee parents and their 11 children had been moved from an estate made famous by the TV series Shameless to an upmarket suburb, after telling the council they needed more bedrooms.
They were given a six-bedroom end-terrace despite the protests of the existing tenant. Yesterday the large back and front gardens were strewn with discarded household items and children’s plastic toys.
The house’s previous resident – a 40-year-old Army heroine who served in Bosnia – said last night she had been booted out of the house by Manchester City Council so the twins and their family could move in.
Former lance corporal Dawn Benjamin told The Sun she had thought the house – her childhood home – would be ‘going to a good family’.
She added: ‘I lost my life, memories, everything I’d grown up with, to house jihadi wannabes’.
Ms Benjamin and her young son had to move out after they were served with a court order. The council confirmed the house had been needed for a larger family.
Neighbours said the twins’ parents were keen to share elements of Somalian culture with them, taking round dishes of traditional delicacies for them to try. The twins’ father Ibrahim is understood to teach at a nearby mosque, where leaders this week issued a statement repudiating extremism and opposing violence of all kinds.
Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadan Foundation, said the family were moderate Muslims who know all about the dangers of war-torn countries. ‘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,’ he said.
Sources believe Salma and Zahra were inspired by their brother’s transformation into a jihadi fighter, and became radicalised themselves while viewing extremist Islamist material online.
According to police sources, their brother also travelled to the family’s native Somalia, where he may have linked up with another Islamist terror group al-Shabab.
A friend told The Sun the brother was known for his ability to recite long passages of the Koran.
Officers are investigating how the girls funded their own trip, over fears they have been bankrolled by jihadi fighters who want them as their wives.
As many as 1,500 Britons may have travelled to Syria to fight alongside rebels. Many of them have posted messages online promising to use their ‘terror skills’ if they return to Britain.
- Three men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences linked to Syria. A 27-year-old from Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, and a 26-year-old from Slough, Berkshire, were held on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts. Another 26-year-old man was also arrested in Slough, on suspicion of financing terrorist acts.