Plea for missing Britons
Three sisters are suspected of taking their children to join Islamic State in Syria. Two of the women’s spouses appeal for their return.
LONDON — Mohammad Shoaib said his last contact with his children was by phone on June 8. They were in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
His son had told him he missed him, and his daughter said, “Daddy, I love you. I want to see you; I miss you.”
This week, he issued a desperate plea to his wife, Khadija, one of three sisters suspected of abandoning their husbands in England to join the militant group Islamic State in Syria.
“Come back to normal life, please,” Shoaib said at a news conference. “They are young kids, 7 and 5, and you know I love you so much.”
The group — the three sisters and their nine children — left Britain for Saudi Arabia on May 28 and were last seen at a hotel in Medina.
“We had a perfect relationship. We had a lovely family. I don’t know what happened,” Shoaib said as he spoke alongside the husband of one of the other sisters.
Looking pale and exhausted, and breaking into sobs as they spoke, the men said their lives were shattered when their wives failed to return from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
British authorities are searching for the women and their children, ages 3 to 15, but fear that they are the latest in a long list of British citizens to become radicalized and choose to abandon their Western lives to join Islamic State.
Speaking to journalists Tuesday for the first time since their disappearance was made public, the men fought back tears and described the last week as unbearable.
They made poignant direct appeals to the older children in the group: “Please, please, if you watch this video, please ring me, please [make] contact with me. I love you,” said Akhtar Iqbal.
The wives, Khadija, Sugra and Zohra Dawood, and their children are from Bradford, in northern England.
British police say that instead of returning to the Manchester airport on June 11 as scheduled, the group boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
Their movements after that are unknown, although British police said Wednes- day that one of the sisters had “made contact” with her family. The women’s brother reportedly has traveled to the region to fight for Islamic State.
The husbands said that they had happy home lives and good marriages and that there had been no changes in their wives’ behavior.
“I love you all. I can’t live without you,” said Iqbal, the husband of Sugra.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m shaking, and I miss you. It’s been too many days.... Please, please come back home so we can live a normal life, please.”
The husband of the third woman, Zohra, is not in Britain, said the men’s lawyer, Balaal Khan, but a family friend represented him at the news conference.
“It’s an emotional time for the family,” Khan said. “Our only concern is for the welfare and well-being of the children. We are not here to develop theories on what happened or what might have happened.”
It is estimated that about 600 British nationals have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State. Half are believed to have returned home, but the whereabouts of many remain unknown.
The militant group appears to be increasingly targeting women as it attempts to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
This year, three teenage girls from East London secretly boarded f lights to Turkey and traveled to Syria after telling their families that they were going out for the day.
It also emerged this week that a 17-year-old from Dewsbury in northern England may have become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber, blowing himself up in a car laden with explosives in Iraq.
Talha Asmal had traveled to Syria in April with a friend to join Islamic State. His family members said they were heartbroken.
‘Our only concern is for the welfare and well-being of the children. We are not here to develop theories on what happened.’
— Balaal Khan, lawyer for the husbands
AKHTAR IQBAL, left, and Mohammad Shoaib said their lives were shattered when their families failed to return from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.