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Updated - Maltese mother in battle for return of children 'abducted' to Libya

Updated - adds details of message from Libyan father.

A Maltese mother in the UK is battling for the return of her two children after her Libyan husband took them from their home in Birmingham to Libya, telling her that the UK was "too western", lawyers have said.

Jamal Dgham, 35, is unlawfully keeping daughter Aisha, four, and son Zakaria, who will be two in February, in Libya, say solicitors representing the children's mother, Priscilla Micallef, 30.

Lawyers say the children - thought to be in the Bin Ashur area of Tripoli at the home of Mr Dgham's mother - are being unlawfully retained in breach of a court order made in England.

A High Court judge has given permission for the details of the case to be published, following private hearings in the Family Division of the High Court, in the hope that publicity will help secure the children's return to England.

Solicitor Pam Sanghera, who works for Birmingham law firm The Firm Solicitors and represents Ms Micallef, gave details in a statement released with the permission of Mr Justice Wood.

"These proceedings are brought by the mother and arise from the father's unlawful retention of the children in Libya, " she said.

"The father was directed to return the children to England and Wales. The father has not complied with this order."

She added: "The parties met one another in Malta and began a relationship in 1999 and married in 2001. They came to the United Kingdom together in 2008 and stayed for approximately one year and returned to Malta. The mother at the time was pregnant with Aisha.

She said Aisha was born in Malta and Zakaria in the UK and added: "The father is a practising Muslim. He informed the mother that he wants his children to be raised as devout Muslims.

"He previously moved to the UK believing there to be more mosques and believing the religion to be widely recognised and practised in the UK.

"He slowly changed his view and believed the UK to be too western. He did not want his children to be influenced against being devout Muslims."

She said the couple's relationship had begun to deteriorate and Mr Dgham had accepted that the marriage was over.

He had then vanished with the children in September.

Mrs Sanghera said Ms Micallef contacted police and took civil legal action - and she said in October a judge had ordered Mr Dgham to return the children.

"The order was served on the father by email," said Mrs Sanghera. "No email delivery receipt was received. However, the father contacted the mother thereafter, acknowledging receipt of the email.

"He also sent to her a text message stating 'Your trying to play me. You told me you stop everything. Don't think that am stupid I believed you just because of my mom. She told me let her speak to the kids but from tomorrow u r not gona hear or c the kids anymore and u wont know where they r'."

She went on: "There has been no further communication between the mother and father. The mother is quite confident that the father remains living at the paternal grandmother's property with the children in Libya.

" Publicity ... may place pressure upon him from relatives and other contacts in England and Libya may join in this. The mother believes the paternal grandmother will also place pressure on the father to return to the UK with the children."

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