Princess planned ‘escape for years’
The mystery of Dubai's missing princess just deepened, nine months after her disappearance.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai's ruler and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.
The 32-year-old has not been seen or heard from since she fled the affluent Middle East nation and the clutches of her controlling father in early March.
According to witnesses, the troubled princess was seized by armed men on a yacht about 50 kilometres off the coast of India, who planned to drag her back to Dubai where she could face prison or torture. However friends have now detailed how she spent seven years planning her failed escape bid from the Gulf state she considered a gilded prison.
The stunning details surrounding Princess Latifa Al Maktoum's doomed plan have been laid bare for the first time in a BBC documentary, Escape From Dubai, which was previewed by The Guardian.
Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess— Peter J. Fry (@peterjfry) December 4, 2018
Thursday, 21:00 GMT @BBCThisWorld on @BBCTwo
The story of Princess Latifa, who attempted to escape Dubai in early 2018 but was captured and hasn't been heard from since. https://t.co/rMGjOuGru8#FreeLatifa @detainedindubai pic.twitter.com/XiwdX8fVjJ
Included in the documentary is the young woman's now infamous escape video, reportedly entrusted to a lawyer in the US and first posted on YouTube, as well as interviews with a former French spy and Finnish martial arts teacher. Both claim to have helped the princess meticulously plan her risky mission.
According to the BBC documentary, set to air in the UK on Thursday, Princess Latifa escaped from Dubai in February. It described how she changed clothes and drove by car across the border to Oman, with the help of Tiina Jauhiainen, her close friend and martial arts instructor.
Ms Jauhiainen claims Princess Latifa first asked for her help to flee in 2014, after she was brought into the royal residence to teach her capoeira, a form of Brazilian martial arts.
"I didn't hesitate. I was like, 'yes, of course.' That would be a great adventure for both of us, leave together," the teacher recalls.
5 months ago today she was sitting next to me full of dreams of a better future as we were heading towards #freedom... Today we must continue the fight to #FreeLatifa @haighdavid @RadhaStirling @tobycadman @hrw @amnesty @UNGeneva @UN_Women #help @escape_dubai pic.twitter.com/Q9ebQrJ5Uk— Tiina Jauhiainen #FreeLatifa (@TiinaJauhiainen) July 24, 2018
The pair is said to have battled waves in a small inflatable boat and a jetski to reach a getaway boat flying a US flag in international waters where Hervé Jaubert, an ex-Navy officer was waiting. However almost 50 kilometres from the Indian coast, the tiny boat was stormed by Indian commandos, according to witnesses in the documentary.
Mr Jaubert, who escaped from Dubai himself following failed business dealings that resulted in a cancelled passport, says he was commissioned by the princess for the dangerous job after she read about him online. He revealed messages between the pair in which she explained her plight in the UAE. He alleges they began plotting her escape together as far back as 2011, saying she would "rather die" than return to her oppressive father's regime.
"She said that she would prefer to be killed on the boat, rather than going back to Dubai," Mr Jaubert says to the camera. "I don't even know where she is. I have the gravest concern."
In one email from Princess Latifa, she says: "I've been mistreated and oppressed all of my life.
"Women are treated like subhumans. My father … can't continue to do what he's been doing to us all."
Mr Jaubert and Princess Latifa swapped messages every two or three days for a period of several years before the plan began to take shape, he says.
Princess Latifa is the second of the Dubai ruler's daughters to attempt to escape a caged life of extreme wealth and privilege, only to vanish after reports of recapture. Her older sister, Princess Shamsa, was seized on the streets of Cambridge after fleeing the family's sprawling Surrey estate in 2000. Just 19 at the time, Shamsha claims she was kidnapped by members of her father's staff and returned to Dubai against her will.
Latifa is the daughter of one of the Sheikh's lesser-known wives - he has six in total. In her candid YouTube escape video, Princess Latifa claims she once spent time in jail, a torturous experience that lasted from June 2002 to October 2005 after a previous attempt to flee the city.
"It was constant torture, constant torture," she says in the video.
"Even when they weren't physically beating me up, they would torture me.
"I was in solitary confinement by myself, totally, and there's no windows, there's no light."
Mr Jaubert and Ms Jauhianien were thrown in a Dubai jail after disastrous operation. They say they were beaten, threatened with death, starved and dehydrated, and interrogated for up to 20 hours a day before finally being released.
The BBC documentary team says they believe she was returned to her father in Dubai, however no one has seen or heard from her since, despite pressure from Human Rights Watch.
Unofficial reports from government sources in Dubai suggest Latifa is safely back with her family.
She has been missing for 7 long months! Time to #FreeLatifa @HHShkMohd and let her have her freedom, the only thing she ever wanted #humanrights #womensrights @amnestyfinland @hrw @haighdavid @RadhaStirling #princesslatifa #timeisup @UN_Women pic.twitter.com/uP6LSH3cqt— Tiina Jauhiainen #FreeLatifa (@TiinaJauhiainen) October 4, 2018
World leaders, media & human rights groups made a huge fuss about the disappearance of #JamaKhashoggi but we never saw the same outcry when #PrincessLatifa was kidnapped & disappeared by UAE rulers. Why the double standards? https://t.co/rb7Q85rq2L Via @hanraisi @detainedindubai— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) October 31, 2018
Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess airs Thursday in the UK on BBC2.