Jolly Bimbachi and Sean Moore had travelled from Chatham, Ont. to Lebanon to pursue a legal effort to gain custody of Bimbachi’s two sons
Canadians Jolly Bimbachi and Sean Moore had no trouble crossing the border from Lebanon into Syria with Bimbachi’s two sons, but their plan went off the rails almost as soon as they entered the war-torn country.
Moore said their plan to drive the roughly 200 kilometres through western Syria into Turkey derailed after they crossed the border and met the smugglers who were supposed to transport them.
“It was not supposed to be walking, driving, motorcycles, driving, vans, walking, motorcycles,” Moore told Bilad Abdul Kareem of On the Ground News. “It just kept going and going — all these safe houses … As soon as the walking started, I knew something wasn’t right, but we’re already in Syria. We can’t just turn around. We don’t know where we are, so we just keep on moving forward until we got here.”
The journey would take more than a month and would involve what Moore called being “politely kidnapped” by the smugglers and “protective custody” by an al-Qaida affiliate. It ended with her sons being returned to their father in Lebanon.
Bimbachi and Moore had travelled from their homes in Chatham, Ont., to Lebanon in November to pursue a legal effort to gain custody of Bimbachi’s sons, Omar, nine, and seven-year-old Abdel-Ghaniy. She says her estranged husband took the boys on a vacation to visit family in Lebanon in 2015 and never returned.
“I came to Lebanon to see my babies. I have been a victim of parental kidnapping,” she told Abdul Kareem.
She said it became apparent the Lebanese courts “favour men over women,” so she and Moore — a friend who does humanitarian work — hatched their plan to take the boys out through Syria.
“We decided to come into Syria, and hopefully from Syria we’ll cross over to Turkey, and then in Turkey we’ll go to the Canadian embassy and the Canadian embassy will help us,” she said.
Moore said he did not realize it at the time, but by the second day inside Syria they were prisoners. “We were welcomed. We were fed. We didn’t know that we had actually been taken, but again as I now understood it we were kidnapped — just politely kidnapped,” Moore said.
The al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — later took over their custody, but the Canadians had only good things to say about the group.
“I don’t know how the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham got involved. I think it’s a good thing they did,” Bimbachi said. “They came and they got us. I spent a few nice nights with my boys before they took them back to Lebanon.”
Bimbachi and Moore were then driven north to Idlib, near the Turkish border and seat of the opposition Syrian government. Moore said they were held there for about 30 days.
“The HTS kept me safe and made sure that there was a safe time to release me. I believe they talked to my embassy in Canada, thank you very much for that, and they talked to their contacts at the borders and checkpoints and in Turkey,” he said.
He said he has learned from the ordeal that, “There are not shortcuts to anything nowadays. You have to do everything proper even if it takes a long time.” He also said he was horrified by the Bashar Assad regime’s deliberate bombing of civilians.
At a news conference in Syria Monday announcing their release, Moore said the attempts to resolve the custody dispute started “going in a bad direction, and I can’t go into detail, but there is a serious reason why things went sideways the way they did and we ended up in Syria.
“Now we’re hoping that we can work on the legalities of what’s happened and why it went sideways, and all of the truth of will come out eventually.”
Asked if she had anything to tell her boys should they see the video, Bimbachi choked up. “I love them,” she said. “My only dream right now is to raise my boys and unite them with their sister, who is still in Canada.”
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