French-Jewish mother in custody battle dies in fall

(JTA) — A Jewish mother from France locked in a custody battle with a Saudi prince fell to her death from an apartment window in Paris.

Candice Cohen-Ahnine died last week, less than a month before she was to see her 11-year-old daughter for the first time in four years.

It is unclear whether Cohen-Ahnine’s death was accidental or the result of foul play, according to the Daily Telegraph, which reported that French media have suggested Cohen-Ahnine had slipped and fallen to her death "as if she was escaping something dangerous." 

A Paris criminal court ruled in January in favor of Cohen-Ahnine’s plea to have her daughter, Haya, returned to her. Cohen-Ahnine claimed that Haya has been held captive by the girl’s father, Prince Sattam al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, since September 2008. The court also ordered Sattam to pay child support.

Sattam continued to refuse to turn the girl over after the ruling, but had agreed to next month’s visit. 

Cohen-Ahnine alleged that when she agreed to visit Sattam with her daughter in 2008 after the couple had separated, she was swiftly locked up in a Riyadh palace and separated from Haya. Accused by authorities of being a Muslim who converted to Judaism — a capital crime in Saudi Arabia — Cohen-Ahnine was able to escape to the French Embassy and return to France. Haya remained behind and the two reportedly spoke occasionally by phone.

Cohen-Ahnine, 34, met Sattam in London when she was 18. Despite their differences in religion and nationality, the couple continued their relationship, and Haya was born in 2001. But the couple separated in 2006; the prince allegedly said he would have to marry a cousin and could only keep Cohen-Ahnine as a mistress or second wife.

Cohen-Ahnine published a book in French about the ordeal with the literally translated title “Give me back my daughter” (l’Archipel).
 

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