The French father of 2-year-old Assia has denied kidnapping charges after he took the girl to Syria and joined an armed rebel group linked to al Qaeda, saying he has acted in accordance with Islamic law. His ex-wife is suing for custody.
In a telephone interview with FRANCE 24's sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Wednesday, Hamza Madhouj said his decision to move to Syria with his daughter was not a kidnapping. “Assia is not a hostage. I took my daughter with me, that’s completely different,” he said.
On October 24, 2013, Madhouj left his home in Lyon with his 18-month-old daughter. He drove through Italy, Greece and Turkey and joined Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Madhouj’s ex-wife Meriem Rhaiem has not seen their daughter since then. Rhaiem is suing Madhouj for kidnapping and he is now on Interpol’s wanted list.
“In our religion, there’s a command called hijra – it's an obligation for all Muslims not to live in a non-Muslim country. Her mother refused to follow us,” Madhouj argues.
Rhaiem and other parents of French children taken to Syria by relatives held a press conference on Wednesday, calling on the government to help bring them back.
“Is someone looking after her?”
“The questions I have to live with every day are what is she drinking, what is she eating, is she keeping clean, is someone looking after her?” she told FRANCE 24 in an interview prior to the press conference. “I'm living in constant anxiety – in my struggle, every second counts.”
Rhaiem says her ex-husband told her he would rather see their daughter die in Syria than return to France.
Madhouj insists he is taking care of his daughter. “I never said I would rather my daughter died in Syria. I never said that, it’s not true,” he told RFI.
He added that they were near the Turkish border, away from the worst of the fighting. “She eats like every child and sleeps like every child. We are not in a war zone, there are no bombings, I’m not crazy enough to take my daughter into a war zone,” he said.