ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A foreign intelligence operative suspected of helping three British schoolgirls join the Islamic State group in Syria has been detained, Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said the suspect helped the teenagers even though he or she worked for the intelligence agency of a country that is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS. Cavusoglu didn't identify the country, but said it wasn't the U.S. or a European Union member.
Cavusoglu, who was interviewed on A Haber television, said he had shared the information with his British counterpart.
"Do you know who the person who helped the girls turned out to be?" Cavusoglu said. "Someone who works for the intelligence service of a country that is part of the coalition."
He didn't provide further details on the suspect's detention.
A Turkish government official told The Associated Press that the suspect has been detained for more than a week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.
In London, the Foreign Office said it was aware that an arrest had been made by Turkish police and said the girls' families had been informed.
It said it was in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities and that Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was in regular contact with Cavusoglu.
"As soon as the U.K. received this information it was acted upon appropriately," the Foreign Office added, without elaborating.
The three girls — identified by British authorities as Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 — traveled from the U.K. to Turkey last month, from where they are believed to have crossed into Syria. Their journey highlighted the difficulty of halting the radicalization of young Muslims.
There has been tension between Turkey and Britain over who was to blame for the teenagers being able to sneak into Syria to join the extremist group, with Turkey accusing Britain of failing to notify authorities in time to prevent them from crossing the border. The girls had boarded a flight for Istanbul on Feb. 17.
Earlier this month, a Turkish television station obtained video showing the teenagers at an Istanbul bus terminal before they boarded a bus to a city near Turkey's border with Syria.
Desmond Butler reported from Istanbul.