French mum reunited with girl taken by ‘militant’

Meriam Rhaiem, 25, made headlines in March when she made an emotional appeal to French authorities

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A young French mother whose daughter had been smuggled by her father out of the country and possibly to Syria was reunited with the two-year-old in Turkey, a source close to the French interior minister said Tuesday.

Meriam Rhaiem, 25, made headlines in March when she made an emotional appeal to French authorities to recognise her baby girl as “the youngest French hostage”.

Rhaiem, who lives in eastern France, had said she was certain her French husband, from whom she is divorcing, and who is wanted under an international arrest warrant, was in Syria where he was seeking to join militants.

The father was arrested last weekend with their daughter Assia in Turkey, where he is still being held, the ministry source said, adding Rhaiem and her girl were due to fly back to France on Tuesday night on board a plane chartered by the interior ministry.

Assia’s father had failed to bring his daughter home after spending the day with her in October last year, and had left France by road bound for Turkey, from where he called his wife regularly and asked her to come join them.

He had also said he planned to cross into Syria with their daughter to join the Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate.

According to Rhaiem’s lawyer Gabriel Versini-Bullara, her husband had become radicalised after travelling to Mecca, asking her to wear the veil, criticising her for working or 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 militants 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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