Kidnapping: Saudi Arabia urges citizens not to travel to Lebanon


September 16, 2013

Source: The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia has warned its citizens against travel to Lebanon, reported the Saudi national news agency (SPA) Thursday. “The Foreign Ministry calls on all citizens not to travel to Lebanon for their own safety due to the current situation in the region,” SPA said.

Ali Awad Asiri

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri speaks during a press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

 

The Ministry also called on citizens living in or visiting Lebanon to contact the Saudi embassy in Beirut to provide them with the necessary assistance.

Last week, the U.S. urged its non-emergency staff and their family members to leave Lebanon, citing security concerns.

That announcement came after U.S. President Barack Obama said he would seek congressional approval for a military strike against the regime in Lebanon’s neighbor Syria. But Obama Tuesday urged Congress to put off the vote, vowing to explore a diplomatic plan from Russia to take away Syria’s chemical arms.

Lebanon has vowed to protect embassies in the country.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Wednesday that Lebanon regards as important the security of foreign embassies.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon Ali Asiri has recently said that his country has put in place a contingency plan for the evacuation of its nationals in Lebanon.

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Abducted to Greece: Mom battles to rescue son held in Greece by father


February 18 2013

Source: usatoday

Father ignores legally binding divorce decree when he doesn’t send son back to U.S. after a 2011 visit.

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Alissa Zagaris hopes an international arrest warrant filed against her ex-husband will allow her to get her son Leo, 12, back home from Greece, where he allegedly has been held against his will since August 2011.

INDIANAPOLIS — In June 2011 Alissa Zagaris drove her then-10-year-old son, Leo, from their home in Noblesville, Ind., to Chicago and put him on a plane for Greece — just as she had done four times before.

It was a long-distance visitation arrangement set forth by the couple’s divorce agreement struck in a Hamilton County, Ind., court. Leo would fly over, spend some time with his father, Nikolaos Zagaris, then fly back.

No big deal.

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But on this fifth journey, things went wrong when Leo, now 12, did not come home. His father kept him in Greece — despite the legally binding divorce decree that awarded Alissa custody.

Leo soon would become embroiled in a protracted and messy bureaucratic morass that would involve two nations, the FBI, Interpol, the State Department, international treaties, courts on two continents and one angry and heartbroken mom.

Unlike so many other incidents when one parent keeps a child away from the other, this was not a custody case. This was an international abduction. This, authorities ultimately concluded, was kidnapping.

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Nevertheless, prodding authorities in Athens, Washington and Indianapolis to take up her case has been a long, frustrating journey for Zagaris. In December, in a Greek court, Zagaris finally got the chance to tell her side of the story — and she was reunited with her son for a brief, supervised visit.

When she saw Leo for the first time in 19 months, all her fears and anxieties — stemming from his recent comments about hating America — melted away.

“My little boy jumped in my arms,” Zagaris said. “He is this tall on me now (holding a hand up to her shoulder) and he lunged at me and held my hand the whole time. “We sat together on the couch and I just rubbed his skin. His skin is fine like mine. I always rub his back. And look into his eyes.”

The Dec. 13, 2012, visit lasted for about 45 tense minutes as Nickolaos and his mother watched.

‘Left behind moms’ unite

Many of the more than 350 or so friends and followers of Zagaris’ two Facebook pages — her personal page and one she set up to publicize her son’s kidnapping — call themselves “left behind moms” or “left behind parents.”

They are the husbands and wives who fight the same battles Zagaris has fought during the past 19 months.

According to the Bring Sean Home Foundation, founded in 2009 as a support group and resource hub, more than 4,700 American children were abducted outside the United States between 2008 and 2010 by a parent or guardian,

Getting them back is rarely quick and never easy. Zagaris found that out in the fall of 2011 when it became clear to her that her ex-husband had no intention of sending Leo home.

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She contacted the U.S. State Department, office of Consular Affairs, and reported what had happened. They urged her to file an application with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction — a necessary step in any case that spans international borders.

The Hague Convention, designed to make the process work more smoothly, is contingent on both countries agreeing to its terms — which provide a framework for communicating the facts of a case and agreeing to abide by the laws of both countries.

In other words they need to get along, which can be a sticky situation depending on the state of world affairs.

“Sometimes they cooperate in getting a child back to the country,” said Wendy Osborne, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Indianapolis. “But some countries don’t play by the rules.”

Osborne declined to comment on Zagaris’ case — an agent in Indianapolis is heavily involved and filed the affidavit that led to charges being filed by the U.S. District Court.

But Osborne said the FBI is involved in hundreds of cases like this across the country.

“At one time I was working on six myself, involving Mexico, Syria, other countries, all at the same time,” Osborne said. “And these are very difficult cases because they are so emotional.”

According to the Bring Sean Home Foundation, children abducted abroad are often traumatized, losing contact with a parent and finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, forced to live in a country where they may not know the language or the culture.

Leo, does not speak Greek, Zagaris said. And despite assurances that he would be enrolled in an English-speaking school, she suspects that has never happened. Experts also say abducted children are often told lies about the other parent or guardian and the country from which they came.

Love, marriage, violence

A younger “Nick” and Alissa met in 2000 when he was a weekend waiter at a Greek restaurant, and she, a nutritionist and caterer by trade, was a manager. One thing led to another.

“It was mainly a physical relationship,” she said. “I had no intention of getting serious. But then, lo and behold, I’m pregnant.”

Attempts to reach Nickolaos Zagaris through his attorney for this story were unsuccessful.

Alissa said Nickolaos, a Greek citizen, was looking for a way to stay in America. He had come to the U.S. on a student visa and studied at the University of Indianapolis. But that visa had expired.

Not long after their wedding in July 2000, Leo was born. Zagaris said things changed once the pressures of parental responsibility set in.

“Nick changed,” she said. “Before that it was just me and him. The day Leo was born, everything changed.” As the baby grew, Zagaris said, Nick grew physically abusive toward her. In 2008, Nick was arrested and charged in Hamilton County with domestic battery and felony strangulation. Before he would stand trial on those charges, he fled to Greece.

Zagaris filed and was granted a divorce (without her husband present) in Hamilton County. The court granted custody of Leo to his mom. Despite the charges pending against him, the court allowed for a clause in the divorce decree that not only gave Nick visitation rights, but guaranteed visits to Greece.

In exchange, Nick Zagaris would maintain child support payments and put $5,000 into an account controlled by his attorney as a sort of “insurance clause” that he would have to give to his ex-wife should he ever fail to return Leo in a timely fashion.

According to the State Department, Zagaris was lucky her ex-husband had not taken their son to a non-compliant nation such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, France or Poland — countries on the State Department’s “enforcement concerns” list when it comes to child issues.

Greece, however, is known as a country that works well with other countries.

She had other facts in her favor. Nick was not only a fugitive from a felony charge in Hamilton County, he was violating a court-ordered divorce agreement that specifically gave her custody.

The Greek courts set a hearing date for April 6, 2012.

During the delay, Zagaris also filed charges against Nick in Hamilton County, based on the violation of the custodial agreement. Hamilton County issued a warrant for his arrest.

She wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pleading for the White House to do something to help.

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Not much happened.

“I used to be a very clear, organized thinker,” Zagaris said. “But I’ve lost my mind.

“There is a very high suicide rate with our kind. It’s very hard. We have to fight through every obstacle, every hurdle just to get our cases taken seriously.

“It’s like our children are wrapped up in this diplomatic nightmare.”

The State Department spokesman told The Indianapolis Star on Friday that it is working as quickly as it can.

“The Department of State is aware of the Zagaris case and is providing all appropriate assistance,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to monitor the case and the welfare of the child through close coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the Greek Central Authority for the Hague Abduction Convention.”

A final dagger?

With two legal victories in Greek courts, Zagaris was counting the days when she could bring her son back.

But on Jan. 9, the State Department sent Zagaris an email saying that the Greek Central Authority told U.S. officials that because of “recent judicial strikes” in Greece a final and formal decision could take up to two years to be published.

After that, her ex-husband would have 30 days to file yet another appeal, with the Greek supreme court, the email said. Another appeal would mean another long delay.

However, the State Department told her that it was working with Greek officials who seem to be willing to move forward with returning Leo to Indiana despite any future appeal … “and will be in touch as soon as the situation is clarified.”

Zagaris was stunned.

“It’s just back and forth, back and forth,” she said. “I’m frustrated. I’ve won the right twice now from Greece. I’ve got the acknowledgments from the courts.

“It’s been 19 months.”

While all this was happening, Zagaris said she received an angry phone call from her ex-husband. According to an FBI affidavit, Nick Zagaris threatened to “take (him) to the United Arab Emirates” — a nation not part of the Hague Convention.

Not long after that call, an FBI special agent filed the paperwork and U.S. Magistrate Judge Tim Baker signed the formal federal charges against Nikolaos Zagaris for international parental kidnapping.

Those charges have been filed with Interpol, the international police community comprising 190 countries, including Greece. Greek authorities now (or soon) will have the authority to simply arrest him on those charges.

But now all Zagaris can do is wait for the words that will finally end a mother’s nightmare.

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20 Years Later, Man Wanted in Parental Abduction is Back in St.Thomas


January 22, 2013

Source: AM980

A 51-year-old man is now in custody of St.Thomas Police, 20 years after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with an alleged case of parental abduction.

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A warrant was issued for Benham Slim back in 1993 after Police say he fled to Beirut, Lebanon with his three little girls – aged 2, 6, and 7 – and had no plans on returning to Canada.

Four years later, in 1997, Slim was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, but was released on bail after promising to return the children, and appear before the courts the following year.

Slim did neither, and an additional warrant was issued for his arrest.

In early 2003, 10 years after they disappeared, all three girls were re-united with their mother who had since moved to Texas.

Slim, however, remained at large.

He wasn’t picked up until late October of last year by Police in Detroit where he’s remained in custody while Police in St.Thomas and the Crown Attorney’s office began the extradition process.

Just recently, the 51-year-old waived extradition to Canada and has now arrived back in St.Thomas to face parental abduction charges from 1993, as well as charges related to skipping the country back in 1998.

 

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Middle East / Lebanon: Experts urge state to curb Parental child abduction


Source: The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The government was urged Monday to sign up to an international agreement that would help reduce the rate of child abduction in Lebanon.

Experts from several countries gathered to discuss The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, of which Lebanon is not a signatory, and measures to combat what is a growing trend of missions relocated against their will.

“Our biggest problems come with non-signatories of The Hague convention,” said Allison Shalaby, the acting director of British anti-abduction charity Reunite. “The more awareness we can raise the more we can reduce the number of abductions.”

Shalaby, whose own daughter was abducted to Egypt, said that a large proportion of abductions were committed by parents who are unaware such action is illegal.

“A lot of parents don’t realize that they can actually abduct their own children,” she said.

Statistics collected by Reunite suggest that 70 percent of abductions are undertaken by mothers. Shalaby said that her organization had seen a 45 percent annual rise in reported cases.

British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, whose mission helped to organize the conference alongside the U.K.’s Foreign Office, said diplomats were increasingly finding themselves dealing with abduction cases.

“These are always complex, traumatic and sad,” he told The Daily Star. “There are never any winners. We wanted to explore how we can protect the children involved more effectively. This conference attempts to do that, for the first time bringing together embassy staff from across the world, with governments and relevant NGOs.”

He urged all countries to sign up to The Hague Convention, which protects children from abduction.

“We find that Lebanese authorities are usually keen to help resolve tricky cases. [The convention] gives us a better framework for dealing with cases of this sort.

“We should remember that these cases are not one-way – we are also trying to combat child abduction from the region to the West,” Fletcher said.

Personal status disputes in Lebanon are decided through religious courts and often favor the side of fathers.

The judiciary does not consider international parental kidnapping as a crime and it is permitted to prevent family members from leaving the country, even if they hold dual nationality.

A clutch of Western countries already alert foreigners to the risk of child abduction in Lebanon.

“Lebanese family law is very different from U.K. law and particular caution is needed if child custody is [or becomes] an issue,” Britain’s Lebanon travel advice states.

Australia’s Foreign Office warns dual nationality parents it is powerless to intervene in abduction cases committed in Lebanon.

“Australians [including mothers with children] have been prevented from leaving Lebanon when relatives have legally placed border alerts [known as ‘stop orders’] on them,” it says. “The Australian Government cannot prevent or overturn the issue of a ‘stop order’ on an Australian citizen.”

With a large expatriate population in Lebanon, Australia is no stranger to the idea of child abduction involving Lebanese victims.

Earlier this month, Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported that more than 100 Lebanese minors had been transferred to Australia on marriage visas, requiring them to marry their sponsors within nine months of arrival.

“In one case, Lebanese [teen] sought protection after she arrived on a prospective spouse visa for an arranged marriage to a man decades her senior,” the paper reported.

“She found he was a violent drunk who kept a previous wife and three children in an adjoining townhouse. She was granted a protection visa after her own family threatened to kill her.”

Lebanese lawyers Ibrahim Traboulsi, Laura Sfeir and Shawkat Howeilla offered advice to conference participants on the views various religious courts had on child abduction. Representatives of General Security were also present at the event, the first of its kind in the region.

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