(Reuters) – A group of foreign medical students, including seven Britons, an American and a Canadian, are thought to have travelled to Syria to work in hospitals controlled by Islamic State, a Turkish member of parliament in the border region said on Sunday.
Ten of the group, aged between 19-25, flew from the Sudanese capital Khartoum to Istanbul on March 12, according to Mehmet Ali Ediboglu, an opposition MP in the Hatay border region who is trying to help their parents find the men and women.
An 11th member of the group – which also includes two Sudanese – flew to Istanbul from Toronto before they crossed together illegally into Syria, Ediboglu told Reuters.
“Their families came here to look for them after they went missing. The families found us and asked for our help,” he said by telephone from Hatay.
A Turkish government official said the British, Turkish and Sudanese security services were jointly investigating but gave no further details.
Britain’s security services estimate that some 600 Britons have gone to Syria or Iraq to join militant groups, including the man known as “Jihadi John”, who has appeared in several Islamic State beheading videos.
Islamic State’s attempt to create a theocratic Sunni Muslim ‘caliphate’ by violent means has attracted thousands of recruits from Europe and elsewhere.
Three British schoolgirls are thought to have travelled through Turkey to Syria in February to join the militant group, in one of the most high-profile recent cases. Their families and British authorities have made repeated appeals for them to return home. [ID:nL6N0WK2RV]
Britain’s Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to the families of students and that it had informed the Turkish police to try and ascertain their whereabouts.
Ediboglu said he believed the group of medics, some newly qualified, some still at medical school, were close to the town of Tel Abyad, an area controlled by Islamic State around 10 km (6.2 miles) inside Syria. Other areas over the border from Hatay are controlled by al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
“My assumption is that they have gone to Tel Abyad, because I know that the hospital there is extremely busy,” he said.
Britain’s Observer newspaper said the group all had Sudanese roots but were born and brought up in Britain. It said they had been enrolled in medical school in Khartoum.