Jolly Bimbachi, mother held by al-Qaeda affiliate, returns to Canada

After months apart, Jolly Bimbachi is back with one of her children following an unsuccessful attempt to bring her other two back to Canada.

Her companion, Sean Moore, also returned home to Chatham, Ont.

Jolly Bimbachi, from Chatham, Ont., hugs her daughter, Rayenne Annous, at the Ottawa airport. Jolly travelled to Lebanon in November to reunite with her two sons. She alleges her then husband took the boys to Lebanon in 2015 for a family trip and never returned. Bimbachi has been fighting to get her sons back ever since. (CBC)

The tears started almost as Jolly Bimbachi stepped off the airport escalator and into the waiting embrace of her 18-year-old daughter.

"You smell like Syria," said Rayenne Annous​ with a laugh, burying her face into her mother's chest. "So relieved."

After months apart, Bimbachi, 41, is back with one of her children following an unsuccessful attempt to bring her other two back to Canada.

The Chatham, Ont., woman says she travelled to Lebanon on Nov. 18 to find Omar Ahmad, 8, and Abdal-Geniy Ahmad, 7, after her ex-husband, Ali Ahmad, failed to return the children to Canada following a 2015 visit.

"I tried a lot of ways to bring my kids back, through lawyers, through the media, through legal matters and I was not successful and it was taking too much time," she said.

Bimbachi was eventually reunited with them, but her plan to bring them back to Canada was foiled when she and a companion, Sean Moore, also from Chatham, were detained by al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.

The two were trying to bring the boys through the war-torn country and into Turkey. Moore and Bimbachi were released and both have made it back to Canada.

The two boys were returned to their father in Lebanon.

"They were a little sad, but they're OK," Bimbachi told reporters at the Ottawa airport early Thursday morning.

Hoping for law change

Despite witnessing terrifying airstrikes while captive in Syria, Bimbachi said she would do it all again if it meant seeing her boys.

"I have no regrets. I did what I had to do," she said.

She's hoping for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to illustrate the issue of international custody battles, especially involving Middle Eastern countries.

Jolly Bimbachi and daughter embrace after she returned to Canada following her detention in Syria. 0:24

"This is the worst pain a mother or father could go through...There was a time right before I went to see my boys where they thought I didn't love them anymore,"  she said at the airport.

"I support co-parenting. I honestly believe the mother and the father should have access to the kids. It's the children's rights. Once you're a parent, it's all about the kids."

The immediate step is taking a hot bath and spending time with her Canadian family, but then it's back to pushing for better laws.

"I'm not giving up on getting my boys back."

Global Affairs Canada runs a Vulnerable Children's Consular Unit to help Canadians when another parent or guardian takes their child or children out of the country without permission.

Close to 100 countries, including Canada, have signed on to the 1980 Hague Convention, a multilateral pact that has carved out a path to handle cases of child abduction.

Lebanon has not signed onto the agreement.

"Child abductions to countries that do not apply to the Hague Convention with Canada are challenging," admits the consular unit's website.

"These countries often differ from Canada in their politics, culture and religion, and this can make recovery very difficult or impossible."

Global Affairs Canada specifically does not recommend re-abducting children.

With files from the CBC's Sarah Sears