As the war in Afghanistan continued, many of America's forgotten children remained trapped in Middle Eastern countries that soon could be pulled into war as the United States considers strikes against other states that sponsor terrorism. These stolen children -- perhaps as many as 11,000 U.S. citizens -- were stripped of their civil rights the day they became victims of international parental kidnapping.
INSIGHT has learned that some of these kidnapped children already are being used as pawns by abductors hoping to negotiate a deal to flee their war-torn countries. Their stories and pleas, revealed in a series of investigative reports by INSIGHT, have been all but ignored by both the State and Justice departments (see "All Talk, No Action on Stolen Children," June 18). But that appears to be changing as the FBI has taken another look at some of these cases because the kidnappers may have ties to terrorist groups or be terrorists themselves. In fact, INSIGHT has learned, a series of Syrian international parental-abduction cases are under investigation by the FBI. In one case a New York father threatened to kidnap his children, join Osama bin Laden and become a martyr for Islam.
For years, however, the FBI and State Department have had little interest in cases that they historically have referred to as custody disputes. For example, prior to Sept. 11, two dozen U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell and asked for his personal involvement with Saudi Arabian authorities to secure the release of California mother Pat Roush's two daughters, Alia, 19, and Aisha, 23, who have been held for 16 years. Even though Robert Jordan, the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, promised to make the case a priority, the State Department has done nothing. While the FBI has an international warrant for the arrest of Roush's ex-husband, Khalid Al-Gheshayan, the warrants in many cases have proved useless.
Now, law-enforcement authorities appear to be more interested in abductors who may be terrorists than the children themselves, parents charge. "I suggest that this is backward," Roush says. "I suggest that if our government will not make the Saudis behave reasonably and humanely in a small matter -- namely, allowing a couple of young American women to return to the land of their birth, from which they were criminally abducted -- they will hardly be successful in getting the Saudis to stop their support for terrorism. President [George W.] Bush has said the world must choose sides -- for the terrorists or against them. The Saudis can start to choose the right side by letting my daughters come home."
Roush points to a double standard. The Bush administration blasts the Taliban for its abominable human-rights record and harsh treatment of women while closing its eyes to how Saudi Arabia treats its women. And, just as in Afghanistan under the Taliban, there is no freedom of religion or so much as a single church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia. By law, Saudi converts to Christianity are beheaded. As in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Saudi women may not work outside the home or drive a car. They can't even travel without permission of their father or husband.
Left-behind parents of children kidnapped to Saudi Arabia also are concerned about what they call brainwashing, in which efforts are made to turn their children against the United States. Mothers express concern that teen-age sons are being indoctrinated to become a threat to the United States. "I know one mother who got her 16-year-old son back and he swore a jihad against her," says Maureen Dabbagh, president of PARENT, an organization that assists parents whose children become victims of international parental kidnapping. "She was in utter fear for her life. The police did not know what to do because they had no idea what this meant. She could not even go to sleep at night."
Roush has been particularly critical of Saudi Arabia's ties to terrorist organizations. …