Wednesday 23 October 2019

James Bond-style raid launched to capture runaway Arabian princess in Indian Ocean

Concern: Princess Latifa, left, has a meal with Mary Robinson. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Concern: Princess Latifa, left, has a meal with Mary Robinson. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Ralph Riegel

Princess Latifa's dramatic bid to flee the Gulf last February instantly turned her into one of the world's highest-profile missing persons.

Until, that is, it was confirmed the 33-year-old was back in her native United Arab Emirates (UAE) and then photographed two weeks before Christmas with former President Mary Robinson.

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Foiled escape: The Indian coast guard vessel ICGS Samarth intercepted the princess on board the yacht Nostromo.
Foiled escape: The Indian coast guard vessel ICGS Samarth intercepted the princess on board the yacht Nostromo.

Friends claimed the photographs of the young woman - described by Ms Robinson as "vulnerable" - depicted someone totally transformed in just nine months.

Read more: Robinson 'dismayed' at criticism of her visit to 'troubled' princess

Looking away from the camera in each of the photos with Ms Robinson, Princess Latifa's appearance looks markedly different since her bid to flee the Gulf was stopped by a James Bond-style intervention by UAE special forces supported by the Indian authorities. All of which makes the story of one of the world's richest young women even more bizarre.

Born to an Algerian mother, her father is the prime minister of the UAE, the ruler of Dubai and, through his Maktoum family, one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, left, meets Mary Robinson
(United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation via AP)
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, left, meets Mary Robinson (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation via AP)

Princess Latifa became the most identifiable face of the family thanks to her attendance at glittering Gulf events and her glamorous style.

Last February, Princess Latifa made a dramatic attempt to flee with the intention of claiming asylum in the United States embassy in India.

In various reports, it emerged she was very unhappy with her life in Dubai and had levelled claims of being mistreated.

It was also alleged she was too western-orientated for the liking of conservative elements of the UAE regime.

With a female Finnish friend, she left Oman on February 24 using jet skis for a rendezvous with a yacht sailed by another friend which aimed to bring her to India where she could claim asylum at the US embassy. In a video she prepared in case her escape bid failed, Princess Latifa insisted she was trying to escape her family. She warned that, if caught, she would be in "a very, very, very bad situation".

In circumstances that are still disputed, Princess Latifa was transferred on March 4 from the yacht when just 40km off the Indian coast onto an Indian coast guard vessel and then onto a UAE military helicopter to be flown back to the Gulf by a special forces team.

Her two friends and the entire yacht crew vanished in the Indian Ocean - only to re-appear on March 21/22 back in the Gulf.

Princess Latifa vanished from sight for nine months.

The Dubai royal family then issued a statement on December 4 insisting she was safe at home.

The Maktoums also hit out at what they described as "false" international abduction stories about the princess.

However, international human rights groups have demanded answers.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the young woman's upset was perfectly understandable.

"Mary Robinson says UAE Princess Latifa is 'troubled', suggesting a pre-existing condition. Though I'd be troubled too if I tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back," he said.

Irish Independent

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