Nightmare of 3 British men: Wives, 9 kids thought to have left for Islamic State

Were 3 sisters and their 9 children seduced from England by the Islamic State?

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 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 last were 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 have been shattered after their wives failed to return from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

British authorities are searching for the group — which includes children ages 3 to 15 — but fear they are the latest in a long list of British citizens to become radicalized and choose to abandon their Western lives to join the Islamic State.

Speaking to the media Tuesday for the first time since their disappearance was made public, the men fought back tears and described the past 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 all from Bradford, in the north of England.

British police say instead of returning to Manchester Airport on June 11 as scheduled, the group boarded a Turkish Airlines plane to Istanbul.

Their movements after that are unknown, although British police said Wednesday that one of the sisters had "made contact" with her family. The women's brother reportedly has traveled to the region to fight for the Islamic State.

The husbands said they had happy home lives and good marriages and 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, the men's lawyer, Balaal Khan, said, but a family friend represented him at the news conference.

“It’s an emotional time for the family,” Khan added. “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 the Islamic State. Half that number are believed to have returned home, but the whereabouts of many remains unknown.

The militant group appears to be increasingly targeting women as it attempts to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this year, three teenage girls from east London also secretly boarded flights to Turkey and traveled to Syria after telling their families they were going out for the day.

It also emerged this week that a 17-year-old from Dewsbury in the north of England may have become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber when he reportedly blew himself up in a car laden with explosives in Iraq.

Talha Asmal had traveled into Syria in April with a friend to join the Islamic State, and his family said they were heartbroken at the loss.

Boyle is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
72°