Teens vanishing to join religious cults is nothing new. Disillusioned teens in search of something meaningful have been fleeing home to join religious or political cults for decades now. Just ask Charles Manson. The reasons for such extreme actions are as varied as the teens that choose this path. While there is no cut and dry purpose for joining these cults, the outcome is rarely a positive one. While it has always been a concern for parents and a growing problem for law enforcement, it is beginning to hit home for many families worldwide. Just last month, The Daily News reported that two teen girls, Violetta, 17, and her 16-year-old sister, Viktoria, whose surnames were withheld in regard to Austrian privacy laws, fled their home in Austria to join the jihadist movement in Syria.
The teen girls, distraught by the loss of their father a year earlier, had turned to religion for comfort, but, as their mother has stated, their beliefs had lately been growing more extreme. The girls’ mother, Setaniye, believed the teen girls had been listening to the same radio broadcasts of jihad extremists as two other teen girls, Samra Kesinovic, 17, and Sabina Selimovic, 15, who had also fled from their Vienna homes earlier this year for Syria.
Now, the New York Times reports that yet another teen girl has vanished, this time from the small hamlet of Bethoncort, France. In this latest case, the girl’s beliefs and actions had drawn the attention of police before she’d fled her home. French intelligence officers had contacted the girl’s parents, concerned with her frequent visits to jihadist websites. It had seemed to have been the correct time to intervene. The authorities confiscated the girl’s passport and took further steps to prohibit her from leaving the country at the request of the parents. All seemed well. The teen girl showed no desire to flee her home, she remained close with her mother, and she complied with regulations with regard to removing her veil for school. Life had returned to normal, or so it seemed.
Last month, she vanished.
The girl, Soukaïna, used her older sister’s passport to make her way through Mulhouse airport and onto a flight to Istanbul, where she then moved on to Gaziantep, a city in Turkey known to be a gateway into the jihadist movement. Soukaïna won’t be the last girl to vanish in the hopes of joining the jihadist movement. She is only one of a growing number of teen girls recruited online to either leave home or, if they are unable to depart their country, to strike out at Jews in their own cities and villages.
One factor that seems to appeal to these teen girls, who are more sought after than their male counterparts for their unassuming natures, is the ability to practice their beliefs without restriction.
“The fact that we can’t live our religion the way we would like in France might have been a factor,” said a friend of Soukaïna. “The people who manipulated her probably kept pressing that point, offering her a better life.”
Soukaïna’s disappearance is rarely discussed in Bethoncort outside of the village’s only mosque, but Soukaïna’s parents are holding on to the hope that the authorities are mistaken and their teen girl has merely run off with friends. They hope she will return home in her own time.
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