Tuesday 27 September 2016

Fathers weep in plea to sisters who are feared to have taken their children to Syria

Hayden Smith, Amy Murphy and Tim Moynihan

Published 16/06/2015 | 20:08

Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood (left) and Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood (left) and Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood speaking at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
AAkhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood speaking at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood speaking at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
(right to left) Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood, Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood and solicitor Balaal Khan at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
(right to left) Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood, Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawood and solicitor Balaal Khan at a press conference in Bradford, as fears are growing for the safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join up with extremists. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Solicitor Balaal Khan (L-R) sits with Akhtar Iqbal, the husband of Sugra Dawoodman, Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Bibi dawood, and a family friend, during a news conference in Bradford, Britain, June 16, 2015. British police said on Tuesday they were hunting for three sisters and their nine children whose family fear they may have travelled to Syria to join a relative believed to be involved in the fighting there. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Akhtar Iqbal (L), the husband of Sugra Dawoodman and Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Bibi dawood react during a news conference at a solicitors office in Bradford, Britain, June 16, 2015. British police said on Tuesday they were hunting for three sisters and their nine children whose family fear they may have travelled to Syria to join a relative believed to be involved in the fighting there. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

The husbands of two of the three British sisters feared to have taken their nine children to Syria wept today as they begged their families to come home.

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Akhtar Iqbal and Mohammed Shoaib broke down as they pleaded desperately for the group to return so they can resume their "normal lives".

The 12 missing members of the Dawood family
The 12 missing members of the Dawood family

Khadija Dawood, 30, Sugra Dawood, 34, and Zohra Dawood, 33, whose children are aged between three and 15, disappeared after going on an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia from their homes in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Fears are mounting that the group are attempting to join up with extremists in Syria.

Read more here: Fathers of missing children feared to be in Syria are 'crying and distraught'  

Claims have emerged that a police investigation into the women's brother, who is thought to already be in the country, may have begun before the family went missing.

Both Mr Iqbal and Mr Shoaib were overcome with emotion during a press conference as they appealed directly to their missing relatives.

Mr Iqbal's five children, Ismaeel, three, Mariya, five, Zaynab, eight, Ibrahim, 14 and Junaid Ahmed, 15, are among those who disappeared, along with his wife Sugra.

He said: "I would like to appeal to my family. To my wife Sugra and my sons Junaid, Ibrahim, Ismaeel and my daughters Zaynab and Mariya.

"Please, please call me. It's been eight, nine days, you are out and we don't know where you are.

"I miss you, I love you. All of you, I love you a lot. I can't live without you.

Read more here: Fears grow for safety of three British sisters believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children to join extremists  

"To my family, please, please call me (so) at least I know where you are, are you safe?

"Especially my three-year-old son Ismaeel. I am worried about my daughters. Especially Junaid. You are 15. Please, if you watch this video, please ring me. Please contact me. I love all of you and I can't live without you.

"Please, Mariya, I love you. I don't know what to say, I'm shaking. I miss you. It's been too many days.

"Please come back home so we can live a normal life. There's nothing wrong. I miss you.

"That's all I want to say. I want them back."

Mr Shoaib's children, five-year-old Muhammad Haseeb and Maryam Siddiqui, seven, are missing. He appealed directly to his wife of 11 years Khadija.

"Please come back home with the kids, I know the kids can't live without me and you, please bring them home, they can't live without me," he said.

"We've been married 11 years, and we were in a perfect relationship, she knew it, please come back."

He added: "I'm not angry, please come back, everything is normal, come back to normal life please.

"They are young kids, seven and five. We had a perfect relationship, we had a lovely family, I don't know what happened. Please contact me whenever you want."

He wept during his statement and then sat with his face in his hands, breaking down again when family solicitor Balaal Khan described his last contact with his daughter.

"It was really his daughter saying 'Daddy, I love you, I want to see you'," he said.

Mr Khan said he believed a police investigation into the women's brother, who is thought to be in Syria, had begun before the family went missing.

"It's currently under investigation by the police, it would be inappropriate to comment," he said, adding: "I believe it is an ongoing investigation from before the family went missing."

Police have declined to confirm or deny reports that the family were under police surveillance before their departure.

The Dawood sisters travelled to Medina with their nine children on May 28 to go on a religious pilgrimage. They were due to return to the UK on June 11, but broke off all contact with their family in Britain two days earlier on June 9.

Preliminary inquiries suggest the group of 12 boarded a flight to Turkey that day. Since then, their mobile phones have been turned off and Facebook and WhatsApp profiles have not been updated.

Mr Iqbal and Mr Shoaib attended a police station on June 11 to say they had failed to return home on a flight from Jeddah as planned.

There was "no inkling" that anything was wrong within the family, Mr Khan said.

He said: "There was no indication whatsoever from family members, even while in Saudi Arabia, they were in regular contact, they said 'we're missing you, we want to come home'. There was no indication they had been radicalised.

"At this stage, the family members are law-abiding citizens, there's never been any trouble, never been any suggestion of radicalisation. The children were going to school, doing everything normally."

"The family are non-political, they follow the moderate version of Islam, there was no indication of anything."

He said Zohra's husband is not currently living in the UK, adding: "If the brother-in-law knows anything about his family members, please get in contact and send them back if they are in Syria."

Mr Khan said the family had discussed the possibility of travelling to Turkey to try to find the sisters and children but police had advised against it.

"The families feel helpless here," he said, adding: "There are clearly safety issues, unfortunately I have to agree with West Yorkshire Police."

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