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International appeal after child snatched from mother
AN international appeal has been launched after a Southampton trainee teacher snatched his own child from its mother during a family trip in Egypt.
Little Elsa Salama was taken from her apartment by her father, Tamer Salama, in December 2011, leaving her mum Naomi Button bereft.
Salama, 35, is currently serving a prison sentence in the UK for refusing to reveal their daughter's whereabouts and emotional Naomi has now launched an international appeal as she enters a second year without her little girl.
Naomi, 39, wants Elsa, who turns six on February 2, to know "she is looking for her" and "hope she knows that Mummy didn't disappear or abandon her".
She met Egyptian Salama when he was working in an international school in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005.
The couple were married in Egypt in 2006 and moved to England in 2007 following Elsa's birth where they lived in the family home in Leeds, West Yorks.
The pair separated in 2009 but continued to live together in the family home until Salama began a teacher training degree in Southampton in August 2010.
Elsa had been taken to Sharm el-Sheikh for the Christmas holidays in 2011 and just two days before Elsa, Naomi and Salama's family had all enjoyed a dinner.
Naomi was forced to return to the UK without her daughter and despite repeated trips to Egypt she has had no contact with Elsa, who is believed to be with Salama's family.
She said: "I can't describe what life been like since she was taken. The one thing I knew when I got on that plane without her is no matter what it took, no matter how long it took, I would find Elsa and she would find her life as it was.
"I would like to tell her that I'm sorry and I love her so much, I hope she knows that Mummy didn't disappear or abandon her.
"I hope she knows in her heart she feels that Mummy is going to come back and try to find her.
“To snatch Elsa away from me was the cruellest thing anyone could do. For the family to hide her and prevent her from having any contact with me is devastating and I appeal from the bottom of my heart to Tamer's family to please give her back to me. All they need to do is to make one phone call to the British Embassy."
Leadership and organisational development consultant Naomi said: "I had on a couple of occasions asked for reassurance that Tamer wouldn't take Elsa. He was quite emphatic that he would never separate Elsa from her mother.
"He had never threatened to take her but the thing that made me nervous was that he was very controlling and possessive of me."
She said Salama had become more controlling after their relationship ended and it was on the ill-fated holiday that she had asked him whether he would again think about divorce proceedings.
"He made it clear that he did not want to get a divorce and he didn't want Elsa to return home to England," said Naomi.
She told her ex that she had struck up a relationship with an old flame and revealed how Salama then tried to use the information to get her to give up Elsa.
She said Salama activated a recording device and asked her to repeat what she said and continued to record the next two hours of conversation.
She said: "What he was trying to achieve through that was to threaten me with being jailed in Egypt for two years for committing adultery and he used that for his leverage."
Salama asked her to sign a contract giving up her parental rights to Elsa but she refused.
Naomi revealed how Salama told her if she didn't sign the contract he would play the recording to the authorities but when it became clear she wouldn't, Salama wouldn't let her or Elsa of out of his sight.
She said: "At night, he locked us in the apartment and sat behind the bedroom door. He also had his brother guarding us.
"It was on December 27 that Tamer took Elsa from the apartment whilst I was on the balcony contacting family to alert them to what was happening."
She initially believed they had gone to a shop and expected him to return but soon became alarmed when he didn't answer her texts or phonecalls.
Naomi said: "Eventually Tamer sent a text to say that he had taken Elsa to a safe location and I would not see her until I went to Cairo and signed an agreement giving up my parental responsibilities."
The panic-stricken mum contacted the British Embassy who provided her with assistance and took her to the police station.
She then spent the night in a hotel, with no idea where her daughter was.
She said: "It was hideous. There were Christmas carols being sung, a Christmas tree, Christmas decorations. Everybody was very festive and I was utterly beside myself.
"A meeting was arranged in the presence of the police but Tamer still refused to confirm Elsa's whereabouts and return her to my care.”
She was forced to return to the UK to seek further advice with plans to go back and meet an Egyptian lawyer the next week.
"It was hideous coming back, I can't describe how it was to get on that plane," said Naomi.
After approaching solicitors Jones Myers LLP she discovered that Salama had also returned to England with the intention of picking up paperwork from their home.
By January 3 last year an application to the High Court was made, Elsa was made a ward of court and Salama was served with an order to confirm her whereabouts and return her to the UK.
Salama was asked to hand over his travel documents and was taken into custody when he failed to comply.
Due to his continued failure to comply with orders he was sentenced to the maximum two years imprisonment last March for contempt of court.
Earlier this month, Salama was sentenced to a further 12 months in jail for further breaches.
The High Court gave the go-ahead for Elsa's case to be publicised globally in the hope it will help trace her - including giving permission for information to be disclosed to Egyptian authorities.
Naomi said: "In the first few months what was hardest was knowing what she was going through. One of the things she said to me on Christmas Day is 'is it time to go home yet Mummy? I really want to go home'.
"For me the difficulty is the emptiness of the house and having to walk past her bedroom everyday, waking up in the morning and expecting to hear her. Her bedroom is exactly the same and her Christmas presents are where they were."
Naomi has been back to Egypt four times, searching different areas around the country carrying pictures of her daughter and, on one occasion, accompanied by an Arabic speaker.
"The frustrating thing is they (Salama's family) know where she is, they know what to do to reunite Elsa with me.
"I don't speak the language and yet it would be quite easy for them to pick up the phone," said Naomi.
After returning from her latest trip on Wednesday, Naomi and her brother have launched a social networking campaign comprising of dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts in a bid to find her daughter.
Naomi added: "I have no idea where I find my strength from. Any parent in this situation would find it. This is the most unnatural circumstance for a parent to find themselves.
"I have no idea how I will get though her sixth birthday but I am determined to find her.
"Elsa is very bright and very energetic. She has an interest in old houses and likes parks. She was doing well at school.
“I know she will be desperately missing her mum, her friends and her home - not to mention her cats Buzz and Junior.
"I cannot imagine what she must be going through. Elsa could never bear being apart from me for even a moment, she is very much a Mummy's girl.
"The anguish I have suffered over the last 13 months has been almost unbearable.”
Kate Banejee, head of the children's department of Jones Myers LLP and a member of the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit, said: "Elsa is without the love and care of either a mother or father in a country where she doesn't speak the language or understand the culture.
“We appeal to anyone who knows Elsa's whereabouts to just pick up the phone and help us return this little girl to her mother."