French mum reunited with toddler taken by alleged jihadi father

AFP
Meriam Rhaiem (L) arrives with her daughter on September 3, 2014 in Vélizy-Villacoublay near Paris
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Vélizy-Villacoublay (France) (AFP) - 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 Wednesday 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 French interior ministry source said.

- Saved 'from Syrian hell' -

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 on Wednesday 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 Mecca, asking her to wear the veil, criticising her for working and banning her from playing music to Assia.

Like a number of European countries, France has expressed concern over radicalised people leaving the country to fight in Iraq and Syria, with fears that they could pose a risk to domestic security on their return.

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.

France unveiled a bill in July aimed at stopping aspiring jihadists from travelling to Syria.

It includes a ban on foreign travel of up to six months for individuals suspected of radicalisation, and gives authorities powers to temporarily confiscate and invalidate their passports.

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