Escape from Syria

by Louise Monaghan


Hardcover, 255 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $25.99 | purchase


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Hardcover, 256 pages, Thomas Dunne Books , $25.99, published June 14 2012 | purchase

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NPR Summary

In the middle of one of the worst civil wars in Syria's history, Louise Monaghan crossed a heavily guarded border to save her 6-year-old daughter from the father who had callously snatched her from her home in Cyprus.

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Excerpt: Stolen: Escape From Syria

The Worst Day of My Life

Despite my panic over the fact that my child was missing, I felt the Cypriot police did not respond appropriately. Unfortunately, I had frequented St John's Police Station many times before, reporting Mostafa over assaults, and I knew only too well what reception I would be facing, but because of the seriousness of this situation, I genuinely thought that it would be different this time.

They told me to sit down and calm down, that they would not accept this type of behaviour in the station. I continued to tell them that I knew my ex-husband had taken my daughter and I knew in my heart that he was taking her to Syria. Eventually, they directed me into the CID office, where they investigate serious crime. I hurriedly made my way upstairs to the office, followed by my friend, and we were met by an officer, who sat us down and was joined by another officer. I tried to stay calm, knowing that it was the only way they would listen to me, and I explained to him why I thought Mostafa had taken May to Syria.

I explained how the court order worked: that he was due to bring her back to me by 1 p.m. I told them that I had tried his mobile phone time and time again and I could not reach him, and I explained that his phone was never turned off. I told them that in all the years I had known him, his phone had never been turned off. There were many times when he would ignore my calls and just not answer, but he never turned the phone off.

I tried to tell them that as a mother I knew that my daughter was in trouble. I knew she had been abducted. I probably sounded like I was insane, but I knew in my heart that May was gone.

All the time I was speaking to them I was frantically dialling Mostafa's number, but every time I got the same message: that the person I was calling had their phone turned off, repeated over and over again in Greek. I knew that I probably looked like a madwoman, as it had been less than an hour since May was due back, but, thankfully, miraculously, they suddenly started to take me seriously and they began to take a statement. I told them everything. I explained how Mostafa had been acting strangely that morning, how I had a gut feeling as soon as he walked out the front door that something was going to happen.

Thankfully they sent out an all-points bulletin (APB), giving other officers a description of the silver BMW he had been driving and the registration number. They immediately radioed Dispatch and relayed the details to all the police cars on the roads around Limassol, urging them to try and find the car.

They asked me for a recent photograph of May. I didn't have one in my handbag at the time, so I sent my friend back to my home to get some pictures. At that moment I remembered all the photo-fits of missing children in this station, and it suddenly dawned on me that May would now be up on that wall with all the others who, until this day, I had felt sorry for. I thought they would probably never be found. Suddenly my child was one of those people. And I was one of those very parents.

As I recounted everything in detail to the police officer I felt as if I was in a movie. It all felt surreal, like a dream, a bad nightmare, the worst nightmare, and I just could not believe that the fears and dread I had experienced for years, the fears I had expressed so many times to the Cypriot authorities as Mostafa fought me for visitation rights, were suddenly all becoming a reality.

As I sat there, I started to think on my feet. I knew that he was taking May out of the country, and I knew that he would try to take her through the occupied territories of Northern Cyprus, which are effectively under the control of Turkey. I gave the police my telephone number, and my friend Deirdre and I said that we would head towards the border in Deirdre's car in the hope that we could catch him before he made his way across into Turkey:

I couldn't figure out how he would manage to get May across a border, any border, in to another country; as she had no current passport. I had cancelled her passport in September 2010, because I knew even back then that Mostafa might try to abduct her, and even if it never happened I wasn't prepared to take the chance that it could. I knew that with Mostafa anything was possible: if there was a will there was a way, and I had no time to lose.

As we started the car, ready to pull away, I tried Mostafa's phone again. I was shocked when it actually rang, but sickened when I realised that it was an international dialling tone, confirming my worst fears: that he was already outside of Cyprus.

All of a sudden he answered the phone. I felt my stomach churn. I tried to remain as calm as I could, but my heart was racing. I said, 'Oh my God, Mostafa, I've been ringing you all day Where are you?'

He calmly replied, 'I am in Syria.'

From Stolen: Escape From Syria by Louise Monaghan. Copyright 2012 by Louise Monaghan and Yvonne Kinsella. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press.

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