Two Dutch children have been abducted by their mother and taken to the ISIL-held city of Raqqa in Syria, Dutch prosecutors confirmed Monday. It is the first such case reported in the Netherlands, a country which has seen dozens of other would-be fighters head to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to join forces with the armed group.
The 32-year-old woman, a native of Chechnya, who has not been named by Dutch media, took the boy and girl, aged 7 and 8, from their hometown of Maastricht in the Netherlands in October. Dutch police immediately emitted a national alert and an international arrest warrant, public broadcaster NOS reported.
But the mother managed to reach Syrian territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group. According to Dutch prosecutors, the woman had arranged for false passports for her and her children, Luca and Aysha.
Prosecutors suspect that the woman received help from others to travel because she managed to dodge the warrant. Three other people left Maastricht for Syria last year, and the police are investigating the possible presence of a professional network in the city that recruits people to travel to the war zone, according to Dutch media.
After their arrival in Syria, the woman announced via Facebook that she and her children were in Raqqa. Nothing has been heard from them since, prosecutors told Dutch media.
Dutch prosecutors say the Maastricht case represents the first time children have been abducted to ISIL-held territory. More than 4,000 foreign fighters from western European countries have joined the wars in Syria and Iraq. The Dutch Justice Ministry said a total of 180 Dutch nationals are known to have left the Netherlands for Syria. Around 35 have returned and 21 have been killed in the four-year war, which has left more than 200,000 dead and sent millions fleeing.
The children’s Dutch father told the newspaper De Limburger that they were taken by his ex-wife without his consent. She left another daughter with her father in Belgium, and her son from another relationship with his grandmother in the Netherlands, who allegedly was not aware of her impending departure, according to the newspaper.
The man had previously gone to the police because he suspected that his former wife was about to travel to Syria. Police interrogated her several times, but she denied the alleged travel plans and no steps were taken.
By the time authorities reached her home in Maastricht, the woman was already with her mother, where she was picked up by a friend who dropped her off at the airport in Dusseldorf, according to De Limburger. She allegedly missed her flight, but still managed to board a plane with the two children two weeks later in Charleroi, Belgium, to Athens, Greece.
Security cameras in Istanbul, Turkey show her withdrawing money at a bank, according to De Limburger. Dutch attempts to contact the Turkish authorities went unanswered. Soon afterward, the woman called her mother to say that she was in Raqqa, Syria, in January.
Prosecutor Bart den Hartigh told NOS that it would be impossible to recover the children from Syria as long as the mother stays within the war-wrecked country. Only if she travels to another country would it be possible to try and reunite the children with their father, according to Dutch newspaper NRC.
Al Jazeera and Reuters