One of the three London schoolgirls who made headlines last year when they fled their homes to join the Islamic State extremist group in Syria is believed to have been killed by a Russian airstrike, a British television channel reported on Thursday.
The ITV News channel also said that the girl, Kadiza Sultana, 17, had become “disillusioned with life in the medieval terror state” and had been planning to return to Britain.
Kadiza is believed to have been in a residential building in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in northeast Syria, when it was hit in May by a bomb thought to have been dropped by a Russian warplane, ITV said in an article on its website.
ITV said its report was based on communications with her relatives in London, with unidentified contacts in Raqqa and with a lawyer for her family, Tasnime Akunjee, who the report said had been working on an escape plan for her.
The report said her family had been “informed of Kadiza’s reported death by other people in Raqqa and confirmed details in a statement to ITV News.”
It quoted her sister, Halima, as saying: “We were expecting this, in a way. But at least we know she is in a better place.”
Kadiza Sultana, a British schoolgirl, in a video still of her passing through security at Gatwick Airport last year before she and two fellow teenagers boarded a flight to Turkey and then a bus to Syria. Credit Metropolitan Police, via Reuters
Kadiza’s relatives could not immediately be reached for comment. Mr. Akunjee, in a telephone interview, confirmed the substance of the ITV account but said he did not know with certainty whether she had been killed.
“This did not come from any official sources,” he said. “I can’t tell you where the information came from. I suspect it’s true. But I don’t know for a fact that it’s true. Nobody knows for sure anything, because it’s a war zone.”
Kadiza and her companions, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum, who were both 15 when they joined the Islamic State in February 2015, became symbols of the organization’s ability to lure foreign women to its militant jihadist cause. Prohibited from engaging in combat, the women support the group’s goal of building a caliphate by becoming wives, mothers, recruiters and online cheerleaders of its violent acts.
According to a May 2015 report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based research group that studies extremism, the Islamic State had recruited an estimated 4,000 Western foreign fighters and migrants, including more than 550 women.
The disappearance of the girls, straight-A students who had kept secret their desire to join the Islamic State, took their families by surprise and stunned the nation.
The three became known as the Bethnal Green schoolgirls, after the east London neighborhood where they grew up. Their relatives made desperate public pleas for help, and some traveled to Istanbul. They hoped to follow their trail for more information after it had become clear that the girls had flown to Turkey and caught a bus to the border with Syria, where they were smuggled into territory held by the Islamic State.
ITV said it was believed all three had wed foreign recruits, not Syrian members. It said Kadiza’s husband was thought to have been an American citizen of Somali descent who died late in 2015.