The South African authorities have stopped a 15-year-old girl from leaving the country with the intention of joining Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the first known case of its kind in the region.
The girl had reportedly taken money from her parents’ safe along with her passport and locked her bedroom door before escaping out of a window at her home in Cape Town’s Kenwyn suburb. Her grandparents reported her missing early on Sunday morning and that afternoon, she was taken off a British Airways flight bound for Johannesburg moments before it took off.
Reports suggested the girl had an onward ticket to Turkey. David Mahlobo, South Africa’s state security minister, said: “We can confirm that she was planning to leave the country with the intention of joining Isil, and had been actively engaged with social media networks.” He called for parents to monitor their children’s activities online. “It is the very same space where the terrorist organization will try to radicalize these young people because they’re vulnerable and can’t make a sense of judgment on other issues,” he said.
The girl had no obvious presence on Facebook and had not used her Twitter account since November 2012. Prior to that date, she had mostly posted complaints about schoolwork and appeals against illegal rhino hunting, but also made several references to the injustice of the Gaza blockade.
Questions are now being asked about how the girl boarded the British Airways flight alone. The airline’s guidelines regulate that tickets must be bought by a “responsible adult” who would also be expected to check in.
US research organization the Pew Research Centre estimates that 13,500 young people from mainly wealthy countries such as the UK, France, Russia and Germany, have pledged loyalty to Isil.
Anton du Plessis, from South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, said many Isil recruits did not have particularly strong religious views. “What I think we have here is a situation of an immature, very young person who obviously has some stuff going on in her life and is desperate to belong,” he said.