WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three teenage girls from Denver who had been missing since last week and were reported to be traveling to Turkey were picked up in Germany and sent back home, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
Voice of America reported this week that one of the girls told German authorities they were on their way to Turkey, which has been considered a principal transit route for foreigners looking to fight with Islamist militants in Syria.
U.S. officials declined to say if they suspected a link between the girls and militants in the region.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Denver office, Suzie Payne, said only that the juveniles have been reunited with their families, and that her office had helped bring them home.
German border police confirmed that three American citizens were taken into protective custody on Sunday at Frankfurt airport at the request of their parents and the U.S. consulate, and said the three willingly returned to the United States.
ABC News said earlier on Tuesday that U.S. authorities believed the girls were trying to travel to Syria, which has become a magnet for foreigners seeking to join militant groups.
Voice of America, a U.S. government news outlet, reported on its website that two of the girls are sisters of ethnic Somali origin, and the third is from Sudan.
Colorado is home to a large Somali refugee population, many of whom work in meatpacking plants in northern Colorado.
Glenn Thompson of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, south of Denver, said police took reports on Friday from two families who reported their daughters were missing.
The first report came from a father who reported his 15- and 17-year-old daughters were missing. The second report, some four hours later, came from another father who said his 16-year-old daughter was missing, Thompson said.
“There was no indication from either family that they thought their daughters were leaving the country, had medical issues, were in danger or anything along those lines,” he said. “They were entered into our system as essentially runaway reports.”
Thompson said one of the men said $2,000 was missing from his home.
U.S. officials say at least a handful of Americans, including a Michigan woman and men from Florida and Minnesota, have died in Syrian fighting over the last two years. One of the men, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, blew himself up in a suicide bombing earlier this year, they say.
U.S. and European authorities say they are deeply concerned about Western foreign fighters in Syria who might return to their home countries to carry out attacks.
FBI Director James Comey last month said about a dozen Americans were known to be fighting with militants in Syria, and some had already returned to the United States.
A 19-year old Colorado woman, Shannon Conley, last month pleaded guilty to charges related to her efforts to travel overseas and help Islamic State militants.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Aruna Viswanatha in Washington, Keith Coffman in Denver, Alexandra Hudson in Berlin and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham