Mother's plea to missing girls feared to have joined ISIS

Don't look for me, I'm in Syria: Message shocks mother
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Story highlights

  • Tawfiqua Adan and her friend Salwa Abdulla vanished earlier this month from Nairobi, Kenya
  • A text message sent to the family suggests the university students may have traveled to Syria
  • Tawfiqua's mother Rahma says her daughter is a devout Muslim who loves her religion

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN)The tiny passport photo is becoming dog-eared at the corners, worn from being taken out of the purse where Rahma Adan keeps it close to her at all times -- it is one of her most prized possessions.

Worrying away at the image with her fingers, Rahma explains that it shows her beloved daughter Tawfiqua. The young woman is shown clad in a black headscarf, but like all such "official" pictures it offers few clues to the personality of its subject.
    That identity is a puzzle the 20-year-old's family have been struggling to piece together since Tawfiqua and her friend Salwa Abdulla vanished earlier this month.
    Their families say the two girls went to Tawfiqua's home in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on May 13, after their day's lessons at a nearby Islamic school. A short time later, Tawfiqua left the house to see Salwa off, but never returned. The pair hasn't been seen since.
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    The disappearance sparked a desperate search by both families, but there was no trace of the friends.
    Four days later, they received a shocking message -- thought to have been sent by Tawfiqua to her cousin -- which read in part: "Assalam aleykum cuz, how are you? Am now in Syria ... Tell everyone not to look for me am doing very fine."
    Rahma says both families were devastated by the unexpected news.
    "When I received the message, I was shocked," she told CNN. "I fainted, and the entire family, who were with me, was also shocked and cried."
    Tawfiqua and Salwa, who were both university students, are described by their families and friends as kind, quiet and devout Muslims.
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    "When she has free time, she always reads the Quran, she doesn't watch movies," Rahma says, unfolding the maroon and gold mat her daughter used to pray on. "She loves her religion, as a Muslim, she loves her religion."
    As days become weeks, there is still no firm confirmation on the young women's whereabouts.
    Rahma is confused as to how -- if indeed she is in Syria -- Tawfiqua managed to leave the country without an identity card or a passport.
    Kenyan police say they have launched investigations into the case, but also wonder how the two left the country.
    But if they have gone overseas to join ISIS, Tawfiqua and Salwa aren't the first to have made the journey: In March, Kenyan police arrested four young women trying to cross the border into Somalia without proper travel documents.
    The four have been charged in a Mombasa court with being members of Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab. They deny the charges.
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    Police and some religious leaders say a growing number of young Kenyans are sneaking across the border to join foreign terror groups.
    Security experts say Kenyans form the largest number of foreign recruits to al Qaeda-linked Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab. They say extremist preachers prey on young Muslims who are searching for identity and a sense of belonging, and radicalize them.
    Rahma Adan says that although she finds it difficult to believe, there is a possibility her daughter was radicalized.
    "I don't know," she admits. "Maybe it is Satan who has changed her mind. Maybe people came and told her something -- told her wrong stories, and tell her maybe this is good."
    Asked if she has a message for her missing daughter, Rahma issues a desperate plea: "I beg her to come back to me. Because as a mother, I am hurting."