16 Jun 2015

Missing Bradford children: fathers’ tearful appeal

Two fathers, whose wives are feared to have taken their children to Syria, break down as they beg their families to come home.

Speaking first, Akhtar Iqbal, husband of Sugra Dawood, directly appealed to his family, saying: “All of you, I can’t live without you. Please, please come back home.”

In addition to his wife, Mr Iqbal’s five children – Ismaeel, three, Mariya, five, Zaynab, eight, Ibrahim, 14, and Junaid Ahmed, 15 – have also disappeared.

Mohammed Shoaib, whose two children – Muhammad Haseeb, five, and Maryam Siddiqui, seven – are missing, then told his wife Khadija Dawood: “We had a perfect relationship. We had a lovely family. Please contact me whenever you want. Please come back.”

Three Dawood sisters – Khadija, 30, Sugra, 34, and Zohra Dawood, 33 – travelled to Saudi Arabia with their nine children on 28 May.

“The last conversation with their children was when they were in Medina on the 8th (June)”, said Balaal Hussain Khan, the solicitor acting for the fathers, earlier today. “They (the fathers) said: ‘We love you, we’re missing you, we can’t wait to come home.'”

The group had been due to return to the UK on 11 June but broke off all contact with relatives in Britain on 9 June.

Read more: Police were 'monitoring' family feared en route to Syria

‘Out of the blue’

Bradford West Labour MP Naz Shah said she had spoken to two of the children’s fathers and described them as “confused”. The disappearance of the sisters and their children had come “out of the blue”, she said.

“The men are very, very distraught,” she told the BBC. “They are confused and did not know what was happening or why it was happening.

“At this time there is no contact, absolutely zero contact, with the women or children. The last contact was a few days ago when they were due to leave.”

‘Unanswered questions’

It emerged on 15 June that the three sisters and their nine children had travelled on a religious pilgrimage to Medina at the end of May. The last confirmed sighting of the group was at the hotel in the Saudi city, the second holiest site in Islam.

Travel agents say that 10 tickets were bought for a flight from Medina to Istanbul, although it is not known if the family boarded the flight. Istanbul is a commonly used route into Syria.

How the tickets were purchased, why they were purchasd, how they got the visas – it’s those questions we want answering. Balaal Hussain Khan

“Ten out of the 12 have been accounted for,” said Mr Khan. “We don’t know what’s happened to the other two so there’s a lot of unanswered questions as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned as well.

“How the tickets were purchased, why they were purchased, how they got the visas – it’s those questions we want answering.”

Read more: Islamic State - how can young Brits be stopped from joining?

Monitoring the family

Alyas Karmani, a Bradford councillor for the Respect party, told the Guardian that the Dawood sisters’ brother had gone travelled to Syria two years ago and that police had been monitoring the family.

Mr Karmani also said he believed the husband of one of the sisters was now divorced and another estranged from her husband. It is thought these are the two men who raised the alarm when the women and children failed to return to the UK on 11 June.

In addition to fears that the women and their children are now in Syria, a country riven by civil war and where Islamic State exercises territorial control in certain areas, the families’ disappearance raises other questions –

  • How did the sisters enter Saudi Arabia without their husbands or an adult male family member as chaperone?
  • Were the children given permission to leave school between 28 May and 11 June?
  • If, as is thought, 10 members of the travelling group boarded a flight to Istanbul from Saudi Arabia, what has happened to the two remaining children?