French mother claims ‘hostage’ baby taken by husband to Syria

The woman told an emotional press conference the government must recognize her baby girl as ‘the youngest French hostage’

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A young French mother on Saturday called on authorities to declare her daughter a hostage after her estranged husband smuggled the 23-month-old out of the country, and possibly to Syria.

The woman, 25-year-old Meriam Rhaiem, told an emotional press conference the French government must recognize her baby girl as “the youngest French hostage”.

“I want her to be called a hostage like all other hostages, journalists or priests,” she added.

Rhaiem 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 a jihadist group fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The infant ‘martyr’

The girl’s father did not take Assia back to his wife on October 14 after spending the day with her as he did every Monday.

He then regularly called from Turkey where he travelled by road, asking Rhaiem to join them.

“His last phone call, in mid-January, was made from a Syrian number,” she said. “He told me he would not bring Assia back to France and would rather have her die as a martyr.”

She added: “He told me she was fine and passed me my daughter who cried: Mama, Mama... It was horrible.”

“She is French and I want the highest French authorities to act because every second counts,” she added.

Rhaiem’s lawyer Gabriel Versini-Bullara said his client’s husband “became a radical after a trip to Mecca”, asking her to wear a veil, stop working and playing music in the presence of their child.

There are currently six French people being held hostage in Mali and Syria.

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