A UK family of 12 who went missing have joined so-called Islamic State and are “safer than ever”, according to a statement said to be on their behalf.
The statement, purportedly sent by a member of IS, said it was “outrageous” to suggest the family had been kidnapped and forced to join the group.
The BBC has not been able to verify if the statement is genuine.
The family from Luton has not been seen since 17 May and includes three children aged between one and 11.
Police have previously said they may have travelled to Syria.
The statement is accompanied by two photos purportedly of family member Muhammed Abdul Mannan, which have not been independently verified.
The missing family is:
- Muhammed Abdul Mannan, 75, and his wife Minera Khatun, 53
- Their daughter Rajia Khanom, 21, and sons Mohammed Zayd Hussain, 25, Mohammed Toufique Hussain, 19, Mohammed Abil Kashem Saker, 31, and his wife Sheida Khanam, 27
- Mohammed Saleh Hussain, 26, and his wife Roshanara Begum, 24, along with three children, aged between one and 11
The statement, passed to the BBC by a Briton fighting with IS, said the family had arrived in a land that was “free from corruption and oppression” and had not been “commanded” to join by a single person but by the “Khalifah of the Muslims”.
It said: “We say to those that are concerned for our safety to put your hearts at rest for we feel safer than we have ever felt before.
“We call all Muslims to rush to the command of your Khalif. Race to your state. Race to what will give you honour in this life and the hereafter.”
The Islamic State group has seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria since last June, becoming notorious for its brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings.
On 29 June 2014 it announced the formation of a caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law or Sharia, by God’s deputy on Earth, or caliph.
Shiraz Maher, senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, which tracks the movements of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, said the broader project of the Islamic State group is to persuade women and families to join them.
“They never wanted just fighters, I think that’s a misnomer,” he told the BBC.
“They say we are a caliphate, we are here for all Muslims all around the world.
“So regardless of what you have to offer, you should come here, you should be sons of the soil, you should populate this land. And for them that is the real aim of their project right now.
“It is to secure and to consolidate this caliphate which straddles large parts of Syria and Iraq.”
The family was reported missing to police by two sons, understood to be Mr Mannan’s from a previous marriage, who live in Luton.
The family flew to Bangladesh on 10 April, police said, and then to Istanbul on 11 May.
They were due back at Heathrow three days later but failed to return.
It is believed Ms Khanom had links to banned Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, which had members in Luton.
- The Britons going to Syria and Iraq: The stories of those who have died, been convicted of offences relating to the Islamic State conflict or are still in Syria or Iraq
Meanwhile, it has emerged that two sisters from another Luton family were prevented from flying to Bangladesh by counter-terror police shortly before the family of 12 went missing.
Officers seized the passport of one of the sisters, who is in her 20s and is said to be linked to the banned radical group Al-Muhajiroun.
They allowed the second sister to fly out to Bangladesh to join her family two or three days after the stop, between late March and early April.
‘Teens marry militants’
Separately, two of three east London teenagers who fled to Syria to join IS have married militants, a lawyer for their relatives said on Saturday.
Bethnal Green Academy pupils, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, fled Britain in February to join the militant group.
Hundreds of Britons have travelled to support or fight for jihadist organisations in Syria or Iraq. Last month three sisters reportedly took their nine children to Syria.