UK

Missing Bradford sisters: Fathers appeal over 'Syria' family

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Media captionAkhtar Iqbal and Mohammed Shoaib pleaded for their wives to get in touch with them

The husbands of three UK sisters feared to have travelled to Syria with their nine children said they "miss and love" them as they appealed for their return.

Khadija, Sugra and Zohra Dawood, from Bradford, and their children aged three to 15 went missing over a week ago.

Their brother is understood to be fighting with extremists in Syria.

On Tuesday, Akhtar Iqbal made an emotional appeal to his wife Sugra, saying: "I'm shaking and I miss you. It's been too many days."

Lawyer Balaal Khan, who is representing the fathers, told the BBC there has been no contact from any of the missing wives or children since the news conference.

'Normal life'

Speaking directly to his 15-year-old son Junaid, Mr Iqbal said: "If you watch this video, please ring me, please contact me. I love you, all of you."

He added: "Please, please come back home so we can live a normal life."

Image copyright Family video
Image caption The three youngest Iqbal children in a playground in Bradford

Mohammed Shoaib, the husband of Khadija Dawood, was in tears as he pleaded for the return of his wife of 11 years and children Muhammad Haseeb, five, and Maryam Siddiqui, seven.

He said: "The kids cannot live without me. They miss me so much.

"The last time [we spoke], my daughter Maryam said, 'Daddy, I cried last night, I cry all night for you'. And my son said: 'I miss you so much'."

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

The husband of Zohra Dawood did not attend as he is currently in Pakistan.

The case has led to much debate within the UK's Muslim community.

Dr Mohammed Iqbal, president of Bradford's Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, insisted the authorities and the intelligence services needed to come up with some answers.

He told BBC Radio 5 live that propaganda was reaching Muslims over the internet, not through mosques.

But Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, said the number of Britons leaving to join jihadists in the Middle East was "a Muslim problem".

Writing in the Daily Mail, he accused families of those travelling to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State (IS) of "endlessly pointing the finger at others" and said communities should take responsibility.


Analysis

By Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent

Image copyright PA
Image caption Solicitor Balaal Khan (l) spoke alongside Akhtar Iqbal (c) and Mohammed Shoaib (r)

As Mohammed Shoaib and Akhtar Iqbal sat down at the press conference, they looked like they hadn't slept in days.

Husbands and fathers, they struggled their way through personal and direct appeals to their respective wives and older children to get in touch.

After years of marriage, neither had an answer for what had happened.

If the worst is true, and the women have joined their brother who is said to be in Syria, everyone here knows that the chances of them being able to return are slim.

There is no doubt that some travellers buy into Islamic State's narrative that they can be part of its utopian, and murderous, vision.

And all the evidence shows that once someone is inside Islamic State's zone of control, it's virtually impossible to get out.


The group went missing following a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

They travelled to the Saudi city of Medina on 28 May and were last seen in a hotel in the city.

The family was supposed to fly to Manchester following their pilgrimage but Mr Iqbal and Mr Shoaib reported them missing when they did not return. They had last spoken to their children on 8 June.

The sisters, along with their children, are understood to have flown to Istanbul, Turkey - a commonly-used route into Syria - on 9 June.

There has been no contact with the group for one week. Their mobile phones have not been active, nor have their social media profiles been updated.

Newsnight's Secunder Kermani said some locals suggested the women were in unhappy relationships, but this was denied by Mr Shoaib, who said he was in a "perfect relationship" with his wife.

The lawyer for the missing sisters' husbands, Balaal Khan, said the men felt "helpless", adding: "As time passes, they are growing more and more concerned."

He would not rule out the possibility that the family had been under police surveillance before they travelled to Saudi Arabia.

Image copyright Khan Solicitors
Image caption Sugra Dawood, 34, and her five children (clockwise from top left): Junaid Ahmed Iqbal, Ibrahim Iqbal, Ismaeel Iqbal, Mariya Iqbal and Zaynab Iqbal
Image copyright Khan Solicitors
Image caption Zohra Dawood (left), 33, and daughters Nurah Binte Zubair and Haafiyah Binte Zubair (right)
Image copyright Khan Solicitors
Image caption Khadija Dawood, 30, her son Muhammad Haseeb and daughter Maryam Siddiqui

Mr Khan told the press conference there was "no inkling" that anything was wrong before the sisters disappeared and that they had been in regular contact with their husbands while in Saudi Arabia.

He added that there had been "no indication they had been radicalised".

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

The children's fathers had no contact with the brother-in-law believed to be in Syria, but asked him to get in touch if their wives were now with him.


Missing children

  • Ismaeel Iqbal, three
  • Mariya Iqbal, five
  • Muhammad Haseeb, five
  • Nurah Binte Zubair, five
  • Maryam Siddiqui, seven
  • Haafiyah Binte Zubair, eight
  • Zaynab Iqbal, eight
  • Ibrahim Iqbal, 14
  • Junaid Ahmed Iqbal, 15

Missing mothers

  • Khadija Dawood, 30
  • Sugra Dawood, 34
  • Zohra Dawood, 33

Mr Khan said he believed a police investigation into the women's brother had begun before the family went missing.

Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster of West Yorkshire Police said: "We are extremely concerned for the safety of the family and would urge anyone with information to come forward and speak to us.

"Our priority is for their safe return; their families are gravely worried about them and want them home. One of our primary concerns is the safety and welfare of the young children."

The North East Counter Terrorism Unit is leading the investigation into the missing family.

West Yorkshire Police are also understood to be investigating the whereabouts of the women's brother.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are in contact with West Yorkshire Police and Turkish authorities and are ready to provide consular assistance."


Timeline of the disappearance

  • Pre-June 2014: The sisters' brother travels to Syria to fight with extremists
  • 28 May 2015: Family travel from Bradford to Saudi Arabian city of Medina on pilgrimage
  • 8 June: Fathers' last conversation with their children
  • 9 June: Mothers and seven of the nine children thought to have boarded flight to Istanbul in Turkey - a commonly-used route into Syria
  • 11 June: Family had been expected to return to UK. Their disappearance is reported to the police

Dal Babu, a former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent, said he thought internet activity, rather than what happens in mosques, was a key motivating factor to Britons heading for Syria, and it was important to know who people were following on Twitter and Facebook.

But he warned there was a risk that such online surveillance could damage relationships with the police. He told the BBC's Today programme it was a challenge but the Muslim community had to have faith in the community.

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Media captionA Muslim family in West Yorkshire talk about the role of social media and the draw of Islamic State

Sara Khan, co-director of counter-extremism and human rights organisation Inspire, said the UK was in the "middle of a phenomenon" and more and more families would continue to leave the UK for the Islamic State (IS), whose narrative and branding were "incredibly powerful".

She told BBC Radio 5 Live the police were in a "no-win situation", always facing accusations of either not doing enough to stop people leaving the country or spying and criminalising Islam.

Her group, Inspire, aims to teach Muslim women and children a counter-narrative, explaining they have a stake in British society and giving them a message of hope, not fear.

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