The husband of a Bradford woman who fled to Syria with her two sisters and their children has left the country himself to escape the pain of life without his family, it is claimed.
Khadija, Sugra and Zohra Dawood, disappeared from their homes with their nine children last June, and are feared to have travelled to Syria. Despite the efforts of authorities in the UK, nothing has since been heard of their whereabouts.
According to Balaal Hussain Khan, a lawyer acting for the fathers of the missing children, one of them has now gone to live with relatives in Pakistan because he is struggling to cope with life without his children in Bradford.
It emerged today that the number of girls and women travelling from the UK to Syria is on the rise after new figures revealed 56 are thought to have fled to the war-torn country last year.
Counter-terrorism officers said they were “deeply concerned” about the number of cases as many women were unaware that they will probably never be able to return home.
Figures released in July showed 43 females were thought to have fled from the UK to Syria in the previous 12 months.
In latest figures, 56 girls and women reported missing by their families between January 1 2015 and December 31 2015 are “all feared to have travelled to Syria”, police said.
The figures were disclosed as a short film was released featuring three female Syrian refugees talking about the realities of life in their home country. The women have also written open letters urging British mothers to take steps to prevent their daughters travelling to the war-zone.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said: “We are deeply concerned about the numbers of girls, young women and also families who are taking the decision to go to Syria, unaware of the dangers they face when they arrive and the fact that they are unlikely to ever be able to return home to their devastated wider families.
“There has not been any further contact as far as I am aware. They are in Syria, that is all we know.”Balaal Hussain Khan, lawyer for the husbands of the missing Dawood sisters
“The personal accounts of the women in this film highlight the harsh reality of life for women and children living in a war torn country. I hope they will go some way to helping young women and mothers stop and think about the huge mistake they would be making if they travel.”
Recent high profile cases have included school friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, all from Bethnal Green, east London, who left for Syria in February. Some are now thought to be married to Isis extremists.
And last week a West Yorkshire mother-of-two who tried to take her children to Syria to live under Islamic State control was jailed for more than five years.
The woman, 34, who cannot be named for legal reasons, wished to live under strict Sharia law and believed such a regime could only be found where IS imposed control, Leeds Crown Court heard.
She abducted her children in October last year with the intention of travelling to Raqqa but was stopped by Turkish authorities in Istanbul and returned to the UK after her husband and parents contacted police.
The Dawood family from Bradford were reported missing after going out to Saudi Arabi for an Islamic pilgrimage. They did not return and were found to have travelled from Medina to Istanbul in Turkey. It later emerged that the brother of the three sisters had travelled to Syria months earlier.
In a press conference last summer, Akhtar Iqbal and Mohammed Shoaib, the husbands of two of the missing sisters, were overcome with emotion as they appealed to their missing relatives.
Mr Khan said the family had not heard any further information from the missing relatives since they launched an appeal for information in June.
He later wrote a letter to the Home Secretary accusing counter-terror officials of being “complicit” in the disappearance, a claim denied by senior officers.
He said: “One of the husbands, he is in Pakistan at the moment, he couldn’t take it being without his kids. He has gone to see his family over there.
“He has struggled to handle everything. He had a heart attack as well. He said to me ‘I’m in my house and it is filled with memories of my children and I can’t handle it’.
“There has not been any further contact as far as I am aware. They are in Syria, that is all we know.
“Because of the contact with the brother while he was out there in Syria I strongly suspect it was the brother who radicalised them and promised them a better life out there, and he has convinced them to travel abroad with his children.
“But we are no further forward as to how they became radicalised or whether they were involved in anything locally. We strongly suspect it was just the brother.
“After the press conference and all the media attention at the time, everything really died down. We have not really had any response from the Home Office to our letter.
“We wrote a letter to the Home Office to share our concerns with them and also Downing Street but we have not had any response.”
The video urging mothers to take action to stop more children fleeing to Syria was shown in front of a group of mostly Muslim mothers at Leeds Grand Mosque today.
Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams, of West Yorkshire Police, who attended the event, said: “It is important for everyone do everything they can to help stop people from travelling to Syria and other conflict zones.
“Children have been taken to dangerous places and are at great risk; vulnerable people have been brainwashed into travelling.
“My message to mothers across the region is to please come forward if you have any concerns about your loved ones who may be considering travel to Syria.”
She added: “I would like to thank the women in the film for speaking out about the traumatic events in their home country which caused them and their families to find refuge in the UK”
“Prevent colleagues across the North East Region are working with communities and partners on a daily basis to discuss these issues and the film will be extremely useful in these discussions.”
“Today I have been speaking with a group of women in Leeds about preventing tragedies and we have watched the film together. The film really shows that the messages circulated on social media by Daesh are misleading and do not reflect the reality of living in Syria.”