CALGARY -- It’s been more than three years since Zainab Mahdi saw her 13-year-old daughter Zahraa Al Aazawi. Mahdi, who has full custody of her daughter, gave her ex-husband legal consent, to go on vacation with Zahraa to Egypt in 2018.

The then 11-year-old was supposed to return to Canada on September 5, but that never happened. 

Ali Al Aazawi, 38, took their daughter to Iraq instead where she is currently staying with his family. These are members she only met when she arrived three years ago.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Mahdi.

“There are no words to explain it. Your daughter is alive but you can’t see her and you can’t talk to her.”

Al Aazawi returned to Canada in 2019 and was arrested. A judge last week convicted him of abduction which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

Mahdi says this is hardly justice as her daughter continues to remain in another country. During the trial, Zahraa testified that she didn’t want to return to Canada, but Mahdi believes her daughter is in danger.

“My daughter get a very severe brainwash and they turn her against me strongly and she is under control,” said Mahdi.

“She has no rights, she can’t express her feelings, she can’t defend herself when she is in danger because unfortunately she in a corrupt culture.”

The Calgary mother is now calling on the government to help bring her daughter back to Canada. The court has no authority to order the return of Zahraa to the country.


Calgary lawyer Markham Silver said repatriation of the teen will be difficult.

“You’re dealing with another country where it is a paternalistic society as opposed to a maternal society," Silver said. "It is not going to recognize the rights of the mother in Canada. The child is now there. How are you going to get the child back here?”

ICHAPEAU Canada, an organization that represents Canadian parents whose children have been internationally abducted around the world, has been working with Mahdi. Stephen Watkins, ICHAPEAU Canada co-founder, described the situation with Zahraa as a hostage-taking.

“In this situation the mother and the father are here in Canada," he said. "They are the only ones that have the parental custody rights. She’s (been) left with complete strangers in another land."

Watkins said he believes the maximum sentence for Al Aazawi may help bring Zahraa home.

“Any person who has been found guilty of parental child abduction never receives the maximum,” said Watkins.

“If the criminal code of Canada says you’ll get up to 10 years why don’t we say you get 10 years or return the child? It’s your choice. It has worked before in another country in another case.”

Global Affairs wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case but said in a statement to CTV News, “it is aware and officials are in contact with the family in an effort to facilitate a return to Canada.”

Madhi remains hopeful she will be reunited with her daughter again. She is remorseful that her daughter is caught in the middle of this nightmare.

“This is too much for her age. She didn’t deserve this pain and she didn’t’ deserve this disaster.”

Al Aazawi has been released on bail ahead of his sentencing hearing in October. While he was convicted of abduction, he was acquitted of international kidnapping, which would’ve carried a life sentence.

For more information and resources about international child abduction, visit

To learn more about Zainab’s case, watch the video posted to iChapeau's YouTube account.