ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish security services searching for three British sisters and their nine children thought headed to join Islamic State militants in Syria have no idea where they are, a Turkish official said on Wednesday.
British Muslims Khadija, Sugra and Zohra Dawood and their children, aged between three and 15, were reported missing six days ago. The husbands of two of the women on Tuesday appealed for their return.
The group flew from Saudi Arabia, where they were thought to be on pilgrimage, to Istanbul on June 9, the Turkish security official said. Their families grew concerned when they failed to arrive back in Britain on June 11 as expected and British police contacted their Turkish counterparts for help the next day.
"We have no idea if they are in Turkey or have crossed into Syria. We are working to find them but there is no trace of them until now," the official said.
British authorities estimate more than 700 Britons have traveled to Syria, with a significant proportion thought to have joined Islamic State, which has taken over vast areas of the country and neighboring Iraq.
Islamic State is believed to have attracted thousands of foreign fighters, many of whom have passed through Turkey.
Turkey has rebuffed criticism from some Western countries for failing to stem the flow, arguing that domestic intelligence agencies need to do more to stop their nationals being radicalized and traveling to Turkey in the first place.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Tom Heneghan)