Missing teen ‘highly likely’ to be with Islamic State in Syria

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Missing teen ‘highly likely’ to be with Islamic State in Syria

The Korean teenager who went missing in Turkey and is suspected to have joined an extremist Islamist group exchanged messages via SNS services with a suspicious Turkish contact, police officials confirmed Monday.

Seoul police said that the 18-year-old identified by the surname Kim exchanged messages with a contact in Turkey last December over Twitter and Surespot, an encrypted instant messaging app.

Police officials confiscated Kim’s computer and found that he had been communicating with someone with an ID called “mujabedin.”

Mujahedin, and variants of the spelling, refer to Muslims engaged in jihad, and is a common term for guerilla fighters in Afghanistan and Iran.

Police said that the name Hassan was used in these exchanges.

Kim’s mother reported her son missing Thursday, telling police that he claimed to have a pen pal in Turkey whose name was “Hassan.”

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed Sunday that a Korean national had gone missing on Jan. 10 during travels in Turkey with a family friend.

Korean authorities are looking into the boy’s disappearance and are considering the possibility that he may have illegally entered Syria to contact the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a radical Islamist group that has seized large territories in Syria and Iraq and is vigorously trying to attract and train new recruits.

There is a “high likelihood” that Kim joined ISIS, said an official of the Korean Embassy in Turkey on Sunday.

The Korean Embassy said, “We see that Kim entered Turkey and went to Kilis to join ISIS. We determined that there is a high likelihood it is ISIS and have communicated this with the central government.”

Kilis is a city in south Turkey near the border with Syria.

Kim’s Facebook page was linked with Arab groups as well. He was confirmed to have searched for information on ISIS over the past one to two years.

Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Kang Shin-myung said in a press conference Monday that Kim told his parents that he wanted to go to Turkey for a “healing” trip and that he “wanted to go on a trip so we can better focus on his studies.” Kim is a middle school dropout.

He arrived in Turkey on Jan. 8 and went missing in Kilis on Jan. 10.

The police are questioning the man who accompanied Kim until he went missing. He only reported Kim’s disappearance to the Korean Embassy in Turkey on Jan. 12. He returned to Korea on Saturday and began questioning by police from Sunday.

Amid suspicions that the man could become a suspect in the case, Kang said, “Every possibility has to be left open.”

Kim and his family friend, a church acquaintance surnamed Hong, 45, are reported to have entered Turkey on Jan. 8, and then moved to Kilis, a city near the border with Syria, on the same day.

The 18-year-old Seoul resident went missing two days later.

However, Hong informed the Korean Embassy about Kim’s disappearance on Jan. 12.

Hong was reported to be a minister, but Kim’s church confirmed that he was not a member of its congregation, leading to further suspicions about Hong’s role in the case.

Kang said he would not reveal all the contents of Kim’s emails because this could be harmful in the search for the missing teenager.

An investigative official said that they were looking into a tip that said that Kim went to Kilis with Hong and a third person took Kim to Syria.

Also CCTV provided by Turkish police showed Kim to be with a third party in Kilis other than the Korean man. 

BY SARAH KIM, CHAE YOON-KYUNG [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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