Jolly Bimbachi and sons on Lebanon trip. (Photo courtesy of Jolly Bimbachi).

Chatham Mom Reveals Details Of Syria Hostage Situation

A Chatham resident, who was held captive by an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, is sharing the details of her abduction and where her kids are now.

Jolly Bimbachi, who returned home to Canada last month, has been fighting for her two sons ever since her ex-husband took the kids on vacation to Lebanon and never brought them back.

Bimbachi, who is related to her ex-husband, says most of her family is against her.

“It is true, we are cousins. In our culture cousins do marry each other. They make us do a blood test before to make sure we’re compatible with each other in case there are kids later on. I don’t mention it to anybody because I know it’s not part of the culture here,” she explains.

Bimbachi says in November of 2017, she had a court date with her ex-husband and was in the process of applying for full custody.

“I was actually in the process of a custody battle and going through courts with my ex-husband in Lebanon. Things were not progressing. The closer it came to me having to come back home, the harder it was for me to say bye to my kids,” explains Bimbachi. “At the same time, there were threats being said…There was no way that my ex-husband was going to let me take the kids alive out of Lebanon.”

Bimbachi, along with the help of another Chatham resident named Sean Moore, came up with a plan to go through Syria and hopefully get to Turkey safely with the children. She says they planned to go to the Canadian embassy and seek help once they were there.

The pair decided to follow through with their plan when Bimbachi got overnight visitation with the children. She says the plan quickly fell apart when they were stopped before the Turkish border.

“We realized that we were taken probably way after we were actually taken. Just as we’re processing everything, we came to the conclusion that we’re probably set up from the beginning,” says Bimbachi. “There are a lot of gangs there and there are a lot of people. We don’t really know who to believe.”

Bimbachi says the first group that stopped them was a rebel group of freedom fighters who then exchanged them to a terrorist group called “HTS” around January 10, 2018. She says that is the day she and Sean were separated.

She believes her ex-husband and his cousin are affiliated with this group and that is why they have power in Syria. From her understanding, HTS was part of al Qaeda a few years ago then formed its own group.

The pair were then taken to the Syrian Salvation Government, which Bimbachi says is an independent government that controls the northern part of the country. From what she gathers, HTS is serves as a military branch of that government.

According to Bimbachi, one of the reasons they were first abducted was because of Facebook posts created by her ex-husband’s cousin about her and Moore. She says the posts claimed that she was a “violent mother” and “abusive towards her kids” and that Moore kidnapped children for a living. Bimbachi says none of this was true, but they could not move anywhere without the risk of being recognized.

Bimabchi says she was taken to a house owned by a family related the HTS group, while Sean was eventually taken to a Syrian jail. She says her children were taken from her about a week and a half after getting first abducted.

“I can’t say whether it was good or bad, but I learned a lot of what was actually going on in the war. I teach at St. Clair College. I teach about sociology and I teach about these things and refugees,” explains Bimbachi. “To kind of see it in like a first-person perspective was just an amazing feeling for me, despite the fact that i was scared every minute because I didn’t know what they were going to do to me and despite the fact that they took my kids.”

Bimbachi says it was a beautiful home but it was clearly damaged by bombs and did not have hot water or electricity. She says “we are so lucky we live in Canada.”

The HTS eventually picked her up at the home she was staying and decided it was time to let her go.

“They picked me up around 8 o’clock in the morning and we finally got to the border around 9. It took us a while to get everything organized and process everything,” says Bimbachi. “Then they finally took me to a little office building right outside of the Syrian side of the border and I got to meet the prime minister and president of the Syrian Salvation Government.”

She says the officials asked her to call the Canadian ambassador in Turkey to come and meet them. According to Bimbachi, they even prepared documents that cleared Moore and her of any wrong doing. The documents said the only crime they committed was crossing into Syria illegally.

Bimbachi says they were then taken to “No Man’s Land” for a two-hour press conference. She and Moore then waited for Turkish authorities to come and pick them up.

She says she recently discovered through family members that her two sons made it back safely to Lebanon.

“We just found out that they had taken my kids through the smuggling route the same way we came in. It’s a very dangerous route and very rugged…they had to cross the “No Man’s Land” between Syria and Lebanon and it took the kids about four hours and they had to do it alone,” explains Bimbachi. “Their dad didn’t even come in to pick them up and the HTS guys were too afraid to go to Lebanon.”

Bimbachi says she does not know when she will see her kids next.

“It’s going to be very hard. I knew the consequences going into this and I knew the risks I was taking, but my hope was so high that I was going to succeed. I’m not going to be able to see them very soon, I know that. I’m working on it,” she says.

Bimbachi says her next step is to appeal to the Lebanese government and wants to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She says she wants to start a dialogue in hopes that the Lebanese government will change its mind on this issue.

She says she is moving to Ottawa this weekend to live with her mom, sister, and daughter. Bimbachi is also planning on going back to university to get a PHD.