VILLACOUBLAY MILITARY BASE, France: A young French mother whose two-year-old daughter was smuggled out of the country by her father and reportedly taken to jihadist centres in Syria, arrived home yesterday after they were reunited in Turkey.
Meriam Rhaiem, 25, made headlines in March when she appealed to French authorities to recognise her baby girl as “the youngest French hostage”, months after her husband failed to bring little Assia home and took her to Turkey instead.
He had called his wife regularly and asked her to come and join them, telling her that he planned to cross into Syria with their daughter to join the Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate.
“It’s a moment of great emotion with the arrival of Meriam Rhaiem and her daughter Assia, after months of waiting,” said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who met mother and daughter as they arrived at Villacoublay air base outside Paris. He noted “the trials this young woman has endured, fighting hard for the return of her daughter who was kidnapped in circumstances which aren’t clear”.
Rhaiem, holding her child in a beige blanket and flanked by her lawyer who was also on the plane from Turkey, made no comment upon her arrival. The father was arrested last weekend with 28-month-old Assia in Turkey, where he is still being held, a ministry source said.
Rhaiem, who lives in eastern France, had said she was certain her French husband, whom she is divorcing and who is wanted under an international arrest warrant, was in Syria where he was seeking to join jihadists.
Speaking to RTL radio on Tuesday, she said she had saved her daughter “from Syrian hell”. Cazeneuve told French radio yesterday that the father “had taken this child into the theatre of jihadist operations in Syria”, adding she was “in danger every day”. He paid tribute to “a brave mother (who) decided to get her child back”.
According to Rhaiem’s lawyer Gabriel Versini-Bullara, her husband had become radicalised after visiting Makkah, asking her to wear the veil, criticising her for working and banning her from playing music to Assia.
According to official estimates, around 800 French nationals or residents — including several dozen women — have travelled to Syria, returned from the conflict-ridden country or plan to go there.