Cape Town - The parents of the 15-year-old Cape Town girl who was intercepted at Cape Town Airport on Sunday and stopped from joining Islamic State are overcome with emotion and relief that their daughter had been rescued.
After being debriefed by State Security, the girl has been released back into the care of her family.
“Parents must be made aware of the dangers of the internet and social media,” her father has said.
The parents, traumatised from the events of the past 24 hours, preferred to speak to Independent Media through an interlocutor on Monday.
Her father would not speak about who bought their daughter’s airline ticket or facilitated her travel, but has said she was motivated by political considerations.
He said his daughter’s motivation was to do humanitarian work and report on what was happening on the ground. “Her concern was that media reports on what was actually happening in the area were inaccurate.”
The girl was making her way to Turkey. Most recruits are flown to Turkey and are then taken by road across Turkey to the border with Syria.
Relatives have acknowledged that the girl was naive about the dangerous conditions into which she would have been thrust and commented that the clothes she packed suggested she did not fully comprehend the reality of the war zone she would have entered.
On realising around 8am on Sunday that the teenager had disappeared, the family had initially alerted the police, who had then informed local intelligence officials.
Minister of State Security David Mahlobo was also informed, which prompted a national search to locate her. She was found in the business class section of a British Airways flight headed to OR Tambo International Airport.
“We alerted officials at all airports immediately. If we had not been notified in time, she would have left the country. I have spoken to her father and grandfather, who are relieved that she has been found,” Mahlobo said.
“We can confirm that she was planning to leave the country with the intention of joining IS, and had been actively engaged with social media networks,” he added.
Evidence found in the girl’s bedroom suggested she had transferred money to an unknown source, and other clues written on her school books suggested to her family that she had been in contact with Islamic State recruiters.
She had also confided to friends that she was considering joining Islamic State. Relatives and friends have noted she had become increasingly politicised in the past month.
“An investigation is under way as to how far this network goes, whether there is a cell in the country, and what the methods of recruiting and funding are. We cannot allow South Africa to be used as a recruitment space,” Mahlobo said.
Islamic State has been recruiting female teens from around the world to join its ranks in Syria and Iraq through an online campaign. Female Islamic State recruiters use social media forums such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The South African girl’s attempted recruitment follows on the heels of Sharmeena Begum, the 15-year-old British girl who was lured by Islamic State propaganda to go to Syria in December. She was the first of four teenage school friends who were recruited to join the group, and is believed to be in its stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
On March 14, three teens from London were detained in Turkey as they tried to travel to Syria.
Upon joining a sharia military camp, the South African girl would probably have undergone weapons training and fundamentalist ideological education. The usual process is a 45-day boot camp followed by a three-month weapons camp before being thrust into battle.
In order to counter the aggressive recruitment of youngsters by Islamic State, “a lot of work has to be done”, said Mahlobo.