I am pleased to be able to finally share the wonderful news that my good friend Kalli Atteya has safely reunited with her young son, who was previously internationally snatched by the child’s father during a despicable and cunning scheme that lured Kalli and her son to revolutionary Egypt two years ago (the abduction took place on August 1st, 2011) under the guise of the extremist father, Mohamed’s, claims that his mother was dying and that she wanted to see her grandson before her death.
Kalli’s efforts are nothing short of heroic. The love she holds for her son is what is right about our world.
This is what occurred in short form.
Kalli had met Mohamed (an Egyptian national reported to be part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood) in 1999 while he worked in a restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A year later they married. And a year later, Niko was born (2001).
“Three months after our boy was born, he left,” Kalli Atteya told FoxNews.com. “He moved back to Harrisburg, and he dated many, many women. I tried to save my marriage but it didn’t work. Basically, he married me for a visa.”
Finally, in 2005 Kalli was granted a divorce from the child’s father, who quickly moved from the United States to China, leaving Kalli – who is a few classes short of receiving her Masters in Education, alone to raise her young son.
During the next six years, Kalli kept in touch with Mohamed in order for her child to know his estranged father under remote circumstances.
Then, in 2011, Kalli and her son’s nightmare occurred.
Mohamed was able to convince Kalli to travel with their son to Egypt in order to see his alleged dying mother. What was really going on unknown to Kalli was that Mohamed was planning to snatch his son, and bring him into the world of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Shortly upon Kalli and her son’s arrival, Mohamed’s long-planned scheme went into place and culminated with him tossing out of the car Kalli and her sister Maria (who traveled with her sister and nephew from Pennsylvania to Egypt), while they were on a desolate road while in route from Alexandria to Port Said on August 1st, 2011.
Kalli stated that Mohamed had complained of car trouble and forced herself and her sister (Maria Panagos) out of the car in extreme heat, leaving Niko, himself and a driver to speed away. “Mohamed threw me off on the side and ran to the car. I remember seeing Maria dragging behind the car as my son pounded on the windows. It was so unreal to me. At that very moment, I knew this was all preplanned.”
And so, Mohamed, disappeared into the turbulent sea of the Egyptian Revolution, leaving Kalli and Maria (what am amazing sister) looking into the foreboding eye of the cyclone of abduction.
Unfortunately, at the very same time in Egypt, the Spring Uprising also essentially tossed out any rule of law, and despite the fact that Kali was able to obtain an array of national court orders and arrest warrants against Mohamed, the political atmosphere resulted in nothing being done against Mohamed for his act of abduction.
In the meantime, Kalli was rightfully petrified for her life, as threats by Mohamed were not to be taken as hot-winded words, but a reality.
Still she persisted. How could she not? She had a child to protect: one whom she loved with all of who she is.
Perhaps that’s the one thing about being a targeted parent of international parental child abduction that most others don’t really know: as a parent you know you’re about to chase the cyclones of the biggest storms conceivable – you know you’re going to get battered if you are lucky enough to simply walk out of it – but you do it anyway because love is worth risking everything for.
Welcome to the world of international parental child abduction where schemes such as Mohamed’s are the norm, not the atypical.
In fact, young Niko is quoted by Fox News as saying, ““My Dad forced me to be Muslim, which I did not want to do.”
“My son told me [it was] to make him a Muslim,” Atteya stated when asked why she thought her ex-husband snatched the boy. “He said that we lack the morality and the values that their system has. And he said that Americans were so violent, he said we are a rotting society.”
So just how did Kalli regain her son?
Well, she traveled to Egypt on three separate occasions, only letting her most trusted friends familiar with her intent to know what she was doing.
Along the way, she sadly paid over $100,000.00 to a company that helps recover internationally abducted children. According to Kalli that company took her money but did nothing. Fox News added, “Kalli turned to a Norwegian company for help. With each new bit of hope came a new charge until she had spent more than $100,000, depleting her savings and funds borrowed from relatives. Still, she seemed no closer to reuniting with her son.”
As you may imagine, Kalli’s despair and concern for her son grew as her funds quickly depleted.
But there was one thing that Mohamed did not bank on: the unbowed love Kalli had for her son, and her will to bring her son home.
Along the way, Kalli kept certain government non-government organizations abreast of her plans, always making sure that whatever she was doing, was in fact, legal and in accordance to international law (I applaud this act at the highest level).
As to the exact details of how Kalli was able to find and reunite with Niko, needless to say, she walked a hire-wire act that included finding, watching, and planning on when and how to approach her son, who was being carefully guarded – yes guarded (remember, the reality is that children of abduction are in fact ‘prisoners’).
In fact, there were a few times that Kalli actually got to close to Mohamed for comfort. Fortunately, he did not recognize her underneath the veil of the Burqa she was required to wear in Muslim-controlled fundamentalist Egypt.
With careful timing and awareness of Mohamed’s whereabouts, Kalli had a limited opportunity to rescue her son.
Her plan came together as Niko was exiting the school he was attending that Kalli had successfully tracked him to.
Seeing her son on the street as school was letting out the children, Kalli quickly approached her son while she wore her Burqa. Eyeing him, she said, “Niko. Its mommy. Come with me quickly.”
Under the dark veil, the child saw his mother’s piercing blue eyes. He knew it was his mother. He listened.
“My first reaction was [to wonder] if that was my mom or not, and then I saw her eyes,” Niko said. “I thought, ‘Thank God. I’m going to finally get out of here. I’m going to be free.”
Quickly walking to a rickshaw, Kalli put her on the back seat of the three-wheel bike commonly found in Egypt, and peddled as fast as she could away from the town where the child had been detained.
Once the school was a distance away, Kalli changed Niko’s clothing. “I dressed him up as a girl. We made it back to a safe house,” she told Public Opinion.
But the journey was far from over.
Now alone in Egypt with her son, and knowing that the father would soon be looking for her and her child, Kalli needed assistance from home, while trying to create a plan that would cause Mohamed to misdirect his own fanatical search.
United State Department of State officials have publicly stated that they are aware of Atteya’s case, but declined to provide further details due to privacy concerns.
“One of the Department’s highest priorities is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas,” the statement reads. “This is particularly true for children, who our most vulnerable citizens.”
Read what you will into this statement, but one thing was certain: Kali was going to operate within the rules of international law. And today, with the assistance of her friends combined with the unbowed love and courage she has for her son – both mother and son are home.
How lucky are they?
Well, according to heavily reliable sources, Mohamed Atteya and his henchmen have attempted to track down anyone who assisted Kalli bring her son home, leaving a trail of heavy violence in his path, as he and his goons have attacked anyone he thinks may have helped his ex-wife.
Mohamed Atteya, 38, who speaks Arabic, English and Chinese, and is wanted by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service for making false statements and providing forged documents to obtain a U.S. passport, amongst a series of criminal complaints against him. Should he attempt to enter the United States, he will be immediately detained.
In the meantime, the friends of Kalli celebrate openly her and Niko’s return. It has been a long road for mother and child, but for all those who have supported them.
When Fox News shared part of the story today of how Kalli reunited with Niko, it was time to finally share the news we have guarded carefully to our vest.
With reflection on Kalli’s story, the question must be asked: How far are extremist parental kidnappers willing to go?
Below is a portion of a story I shared yesterday concerning this very topic. I am including it here for further reading.
There is a significant and growing side of international parental child abduction that makes me shudder at the very notion of kidnapping I am too familiar with: the alarming act of cross-border parental child kidnappings committed by political extremist and religious zealots.
It has taken a while for society to grasp the notion that when one parent illegally removes a child from the child’s country of habitual residency, this is a cruel criminal act of kidnapping. And the abducted child is not simply with one of their parents, but instead, is a hostage held by an abductor who generally does not have the child’s best interest in mind.
Tragically, and most alarming is the reality that children of abduction are being put into extraordinarily dangerous situations.
So where does the use of a child come into play amongst political extremest, social revolutionaries, and religious zealots?
What I am about to share should not be classified as a rare occurrence. They are not.
Let this image sit with you for a moment: a young girl is internationally kidnapped by one of her parents: a parent who possesses extreme religious beliefs that all things born from the West are evil, including his daughter. In that parent’s religious zealot fever, he thinks that the only way to have penance is to do the unthinkable. Meanwhile, the young girl’s mother, frantic at knowing the truth of the monster who took their child, along with knowledge of his intent, seeks any way to rescue a child now taken to a world where women have no rights, and foreign women have even less.
But here is an innocent child now delegated to becoming a sacrifice.
Welcome to the unforgivable world of international parental child abduction.
Now imagine a young boy abducted to the nation, if you can call it that, in the midst of a bloody civil war in impoverished Africa. The child was taken by his mother, who left him behind, as a bargaining chip in the conflict between two of that nation’s leading militant tribes. As bombs exploded and casualties rose, the child is taught to think that his left-behind parent not only did not love him and that he was an evil man; while the brainwashing ordeal unfolded, war’s bloodshed continued to fall. And for the father who searched, he knew that returning back to the country his child was held hostage could lead to his immediate death, and further harm to his family that remained in his country of origin.
So here is another innocent child delegated to becoming a pawn in a nation’s civil war.
Welcome to the brutal world of international parental child abduction.
A young child just learning how to ride a bicycle is snatched from a Norman Rockwellesque mid-America town and taken to a nation of zealot fundamentalist revolutionaries who preach intolerance for the West. The child is taught to hate the peaceful world he was taken from. Gone is the loving, peaceful, and gentle world he was born and raised in. In its place is a world filled with daily bombings and gunfights, violent protests that lead to deadly stampedes, and an unforgivable God (the God the kidnapper teaches his child is not a loving God, nor does it represent the kind God taught in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths). As this child lives an imprisoned life terrified by everything around him, his left behind parent knows that entering the world of the brutal abductor in order to find her child if caught means entering a world so brutal, that your imagination’s notion of brutal punishment and torture, simply could not conjure the realities that would await her if caught.
Sadly, another defenseless child imprisoned into the worst of nightmares. Except it is his reality.
Welcome to the world where the God worshipped is a God filled with hatred.
And do not think that a child is not at risk of death. They are.
Perhaps this reality is the one singular thing that drives all child abduction prevention advocates the most: the hope to prevent the death of a child either at the hands of their parent abductor, or at their own hands later in life due to the brutal psychological trauma they endured during the time of their abduction. I know my own activism in this arena is greatly due to my desire to help protect children from all forms of harm.
As you can see, the common denominator in the scenarios I presented above is that the child was used as a pawn to advance the abductor’s own agenda.
This is something that occurs in every international parental child abduction case.
For the taken child, they are indeed brought into a harsh world that emotionally and spiritually resembles the lonely, wind-swept barrier prison known as Alcatraz. Short-term and long-term trauma is real. So too are the challenges the majority of children face going forward.
One of the things that appears to not have been spoken about in the dialogue concerning international parental child abduction is the general view by the abducting parent that life in the country of the child’s habitual residency is one that they often dislike, or in some cases, despise.
In these types of situations, the abductor’s (who is nearly always a foreign-born national living in another country) resentment toward most things in the country they are residing in prior to the act of kidnapping grows significantly.
Eventually, some of these parents sermonize their view to the child: preaching – and brainwashing – their views to a child is a necessity for all abductors since they need to justify the act of kidnapping to the child under the guise of ‘liberation’.
And extreme cases of ‘liberators’ does exist, creating a potentially greater danger to society than what anyone is talking about.
The question needs to be asked: What are the long-term social risks if a zealot abductor kidnaps a child born in the West, removes that child to a nation of political and religious extremism which the abductor is an active part of, and who evangelizes the messages of hatred and intolerance toward the child’s country of previous habitual residency to the point that the child buys into the parent abductor’s sermons as ‘liberator’ that is preached in order to justify the international abduction?
Well, we have a potentially serious problem on our hands.
Make no mistake, all forms of international parental child abduction are severe forms of child abuse. Under no circumstance should child abduction be tolerated. Fortunately, this notion is beginning to take hold by society due to the stewardship of the realities of abduction by concerned parents and advocates alike.
In fact, by raising awareness of international parental child abduction the cross-border kidnapping rate has declined in the United States by 15% per year for two years in a row, after nearly thirty years of steady growth.
So our voices are making a difference in the United States. And unquestionably, the United States Department of States’ Office of Children’s Issues has to be given a great deal of credit in their outreach efforts attempting to increase the threat of abduction amongst targeted parents.
Nevertheless, our children remain at great risk. For example, imagine being a mother who living in the United States trying to prevent your daughters from being abducted to Saudi Arabia – a nation where women have essentially no rights. Or a father trying to find your child is Japan or South Korea – nations known to not return abducted children. The realities and hard-truths are disheartening: between the reported and unreported cases on international parental child abduction, it is estimated that only 10% of all kidnapped children ever come home.
In ending this article I would like to share this message: as the summer approaches, now is the time that would-be abductors are planning their scheme to illegally snatch their child. Raising awareness of the risk factors and knowing the warning signs of abduction are so important. Parents involved in multi-cultural relationships are particularly at risk of abduction. The last thing any parent wants to do is find themselves Chasing The Cyclone of abduction. The best defense against abduction is to educate yourself.
One final note: as the Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation, I am pleased to share with you that the children I mentioned above in the examples I provided are all now at safely home. Since inception, the I CARE Foundation has assisted a large and growing number of children and their families at risk of abduction. Our work continues.