Calgary father who left daughter in Iraq 3 years ago guilty of abduction

A Calgary father who left his daughter in Iraq nearly three years ago has been convicted of child abduction but acquitted of international kidnapping.

Ali Al-Aazawi acquitted of international kidnapping, which carries a life sentence

Ali Al-Aazawi, left, abducted his daughter Zahraa in the summer of 2018, leaving her with his family in Iraq. Al-Aazawi was convicted Tuesday and will be sentenced in October. Zahraa's mother has not seen her daughter in three years. (Meghan Grant/CBC, Calgary Police Service)

A Calgary father who left his daughter in Iraq nearly three years ago has been convicted of child abduction but acquitted of international kidnapping.

Ali Al-Aazawi, 39, will remain on bail until he is sentenced in the coming months.

The child's mother, who is divorced from Al-Aazawi, has not seen her daughter in three years.

Zahraa Al-Aazawi was 10 years old when she left with her father for what was supposed to be a summer trip to Egypt with a plan to attend a resort to celebrate her 11th birthday.

Instead, Al-Aazawi took his daughter to Iraq and left her with his family with the intention of having complete control over her education. 

"Mr. Al-Aazawi wanted Zahraa to live and attend school in Iraq so she could be inculcated in the religion, culture and values of Iraqi society," said Judge Greg Stirling reading from his 52-page decision. 

Kidnapping vs abduction

Although the child abduction conviction carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, Alberta case law suggests sentences are much lower, in the one- to three-year range. 

A conviction on a charge of international kidnapping carries a life sentence but the judge acquitted him on that offence.

While in law, the abduction victim is the mother, whose child was taken against a custody order, the kidnapping victim would have been the daughter. 

Stirling said despite Zahraa's young age, he was unable to find beyond a reasonable doubt that she travelled to Iraq against her will. 

Unlike other crimes, Stirling said, there is no age limit on a child's ability to consent. 

The judge wrote that given Zahraa's "precocious intelligence and uncommon maturity," he believes she had "the qualities necessary to withhold or give her consent."

Zahraa initially wanted to return

Zahraa's parents had shared custody but Zahraa's mother, Zanaib Mahdi, had sole decision-making powers. In the summer of 2018, Mahdi consented to her daughter travelling to Egypt and Turkey, returning Sept. 5, 2018.

Instead, Al-Aazawi took his daughter to Iraq, where he has two wives and a 20-year-old son. 

At first, according to text messages presented at trial, Zahraa told her mother she was scared and worried about what was happening to her.

Zahraa told her mother that her father had made plans for her to remain in Iraq for five years so she could attend school and learn the local culture and religion.

In some of the texts, the 11-year-old told her mother she missed her and wanted to come back to Canada.

Mother fears brainwashing

But by the time the trial took place earlier this year, nearly three years after Zahraa was taken to Iraq, her attitude had changed. 

She said she did not want to return and was happy in Iraq. 

Mahdi has indicated she believes her daughter has been brainwashed.

In a police-recorded conversation between Al-Aazawi and his ex-wife, he said he would allow his daughter to return only on the condition he have sole custody to raise Zahraa.

The day after police recorded that conversation, Al-Aazawi flew back to Canada without his daughter. Police learned of his travel and arrested Al-Aazawi at the Toronto airport.

Al-Aazawi spent about eight months in jail before he was granted bail. 

He will remain on bail under conditions until his sentencing hearing in October.


Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at or follow her on Twitter.