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.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Christina Boyle Boyle is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

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

Paul El­lis AFP/Getty Im­ages

AKHTAR IQBAL, left, and Mo­ham­mad Shoaib said their lives were shat­tered when their fam­i­lies failed to re­turn from a re­li­gious pil­grim­age to Saudi Ara­bia.

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