When your loved one is kidnapped

September 25, 2013

Source: Daily Life



Nigel Brennan was held hostage in Somalia and later freed after his family paid a randsom. Photo: TIMBAUERPHOTO.COM

In 2008 my brother Nigel was abducted while working in Somalia alongside Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout. I picked up the phone and spoke to the kidnappers when they rang to deliver the first ransom message and so I fell into the role of next of kin negotiator (the NOK). After establishing who I was, and my relationship with Nigel, they demanded $US 1.5 million for his safe release. The situation still seems surreal.

Over time, and with the assistance of some wonderful local Queensland police negotiators, I was actively trained to take the calls. The AFP moved into my parents’ house and I was taught to negotiate with the kidnappers by responding to a series of ‘what if‘ mock phone calls in anticipation of a real call from the kidnappers.

Initially I was fearful of the calls coming in, lest I say something wrong or hear something horrible happen to Nigel. Dealing with the situation affected my home life and all social engagements. From the kids’ soccer parties or going out to dinner, everything revolved around time zone differences with Somalia.



Footage of Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian freelance photographer Nigel Brennan, the two foreign journalists kidnapped near Somalia’s capital. Screened on the Arabic Al Jazeera news service.

As the AFP and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) increased their negotiations, they decreased my contact with the kidnappers and, in turn, Nigel. The AFP implemented a strategy of deliberately not talking to the kidnappers and we were not allowed to be involved in this decision.

After a while, the authorities took phone duties off me all together. I had no contact at all anymore with either Nigel or the kidnappers. We became desperate to hear Nigel’s voice to get any proof of life. No matter how awful the calls had been, at least we knew he was alive when we were receiving them. ‘Was he alive?’ was the constant unknown that hung over everything I did.

Friends cautioned me over the obsessive behavior that came with trying to get Nigel home. They were justified –Nigel was the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep and the first think I thought of when I woke up.

It had a huge impact on my relationship with my husband as I was effectively working full time on getting Nigel home. My husband had to be parent, home keeper and breadwinner all in one. I really was an absentee parent in my children’s lives at this stage and I’m very fortunate that they love Nigel dearly and could understand why it took my all.

The Australian government has a strict no ransom policy, though if a family has the means, they will negotiate on your behalf – though they refuse to allow you to offer any more than US$250,000.

We had raised half a million dollars to contribute ourselves when the government told us that they could no longer assist us if we were willing to provide that amount as a ransom. This news came 11 long months into Nigel’s ordeal.

Despite the government’s assurances they were doing all they could, other captives in Somalia that had been taken later than Nigel were being released, including Nigel’s Somalia colleagues.

After tracking down a phone number through friends of friends I spoke to one of the released kidnap victims and discovered there was an alternative to government channels – there were international risk management companies that specialised in kidnap and ransom.

My family members launched themselves into trying to find a company that would help us and even though the government actually uses these companies themselves, they were not forthcoming with names. After some long late night international calls we found some one who we thought could pull it off.

My sister-in-law and I flew to Canada to see him and try to get the Canadian family to come on board, as you cannot only get one kidnap victim out at a time – it’s an almost certain death penalty for the one left behind.

During our meeting John (our kidnap and ransom specialist) told us the average length of a kidnapping is three months. By this point, Nigel had been captive for almost four times this length of time. He suspected ours might take a little bit longer as we were in effect starting from scratch and had been affected by considerable government ‘noise’.

The change in direction was profound. Yes, we were paying a ransom, but for the first time there was a feeling of control. I was back to negotiating directly with the kidnappers and not feeling as worried about the calls as I had been initially.

Even when we received a torture phone call, John had helped us to prepare for the worst. He had mapped out a plan as to how the negotiations would work and for the first time since the whole ordeal began, things actually started working to plan.

After four months with John on board, including a trip to Nairobi for final negotiations and one failed recue attempt where we flew the extraction team and money in and back out again, Nigel was finally freed. Skinny, bearded and possibly changed forever – but free.



Nicky Bonney and her brother Nigel Brennan are guests on SBS’s Insight program on SBS ONE which explores what happens when Australians are kidnapped overseas. Host Jenny Brockie hears from those who have been held hostage, as well as families and kidnap and ransom negotiators who discuss the delicate process of hostage negotiation and debate the Australian Government’s ‘no ransom’ policy.

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Indiana mom could be jailed in Cyprus as she fights for kids

August 2 , 2013

Source: internationalparentalabduction.org

Indiana mom could be jailed in Cyprus as she fights for kids

Marla Theocharides is locked in an ugly international custody dispute

In a desperate attempt to stay close to her two children, Marla Theocharides packed her belongings and moved in April from Northern Indiana to Cyprus, where her ex-husband has kept their kids for more than two years despite US orders from Indiana giving the mother full custody.

Marla Theocharides

On a number of occasions, her attempts to spend time with Katerina, 7, and Marcus, 4, have been thwarted by their father, who has denied visitation and ignored an order from the US court in South Bend, Indiana that grants custody of the children to their mother.

It’s yet another international custody dispute, similar to that of another Hoosier mom who traveled to Greece earlier this year in order to get her son back. That case ended happily for Alissa Zagaris, whose son is now with her in Noblesville.

But for Marla Theocharides, 33, things are not going well. In fact, she is about to go to jail.

A Cyprus court issued an arrest warrant for the Mishawaka native Friday, alleging failure to pay child support — despite the fact she cannot get a job because the financially struggling island country has yet to issue her a work permit.

“I expect to be arrested this week,” Theocharides said in an exclusive interview with The Indianapolis Star. “I am not ­legally allowed to work in ­Cyprus until they issue me a pink slip. I have applied for it but have not received it yet.”

Theocharides is supposed to pay her ex-husband 500 euros a month under a local court’s shared-custody decree that is supposed to guarantee her visitation rights. According to Theo­charides, her ex-husband, Charis, is a business consultant for NCR (National Cash Register) in Nicosia and makes 4,200 euros a month, information she says she got from court documents.

Attempts to reach Charis have been unsuccessful.

Theocharides, on the other hand, is struggling. “I am living on my credit card for food and gas,” she said. “I cannot pay the money back; I have no income.”

For that, she expects to go to jail, though probably not for long.

“I am told they will put me in jail until I can pay,” she said. “When they realize that I cannot pay, they will make payment arrange­ments and release me.”

Theocharides moved to Cyprus because child welfare officials told Cypriot courts that her children need to have a close relationship with their mother. Both children were born in America when the couple were married. She quit her job at a South Bend dentist’s office and moved to ­Cyprus. Since that time, she’s seen her kids only a handful of times.

“They were all very brief (visits), of course,” she said. “My daughter is very brainwashed, so she will not speak to me or have anything to do with me. My son is fine. He plays and laughs with me. He lets me hold him and doesn’t want me to leave when it is time to go.”

Back in Indiana, her parents and sister are deeply concerned about events in Cyprus.


“My mom has been taking it pretty hard,” said Raquel Muessig, 32, Granger, Theocharides’ younger sister. “It’s very frustrating because all the doctors there recommended she come, but then nobody helps when she tries to visit them.

“I feel like her ex-husband is just wanting ­revenge and wants her to suffer. She is causing stress in his life, and he does not handle stress well.”

Theocharides notified the U.S. State Department. An official there told The Star that the State Department is aware of “this private legal matter” before the Cypriot courts and is “providing all appropriate assistance and will continue to monitor the case closely.”

Theocharides first reported that her children were taken from her by their father on Jan. 10, 2011.

The couple met in 2001 while in college in Arizona and married in 2004; their kids were born in a South Bend hospital. Theocharides’ husband took the oath as a U.S. citizen in 2009.

In October 2009, the family moved to Cyprus, a move that Theocharides thought would be temporary but her husband considered permanent. In July 2010, she returned to the U.S. with the kids, and in the face of what she said was an increasingly violent husband, she filed for divorce.

Her husband complained to authorities in Cyprus, prompting the U.S. State Department to send Theocharides a letter requesting that she return the children. That was followed by kidnapping charges against her.

In January 2011, on the advice of the State ­Department, Theocharides reluctantly allowed her husband to take the kids back to Cyprus. Since then, St. Joseph Circuit Court in South Bend has tried to intervene, retaining its original jurisdiction in the divorce proceedings.

In September 2011, ­despite the absence of her husband and his attorney, the court finalized the ­divorce and awarded custody to Theocharides.

Since that time, she has been back and forth to ­Cyprus for visitation ­attempts that often proved fruitless and on at least one occasion re­sulted in her arrest and a short stay in jail.

Late last year, the welfare department and a child psychologist in ­Cyprus reported to the courts that the children were not doing well — they live with their grandmother and are cared for by unrelated nanny — and they recommended that Theocharides go to ­Cyprus for an extended stay to re-establish her ­relationship with them.

Alissa Zagaris, who endured a similar struggle with an ex-husband in Greece, said this case is more difficult than hers.

“Marla’s case is so much more complicated than mine, but the basic facts are the same,” Zagaris said Monday. “Hoosier kids stuck in a foreign land against all laws and treaties.

“I hate the fact Marla has put her own safety and freedom at risk by moving to Cyprus, but I understand why she has. Marla is my hero and 1,000 times braver than I.”

In Cyprus, Marla Theocharides says she is becoming very concerned about her own safety.

“I have been assaulted, jailed, followed and har­assed,” she said. “Anything can happen at any moment over here. My ex and his family are always planning something. I am even scared to go on the visits with my kids because I don’t want to get arrested in front of the children.”

But in a recent Facebook post, she showed ­resolve to stick it out until the end.

“He threatened me and told me that he has people after me and I will never last in Cyprus. WATCH ME. I will die for my kids. I am not afraid of him anymore.”


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Innocents Abroad: The Rise of Cross-Border Child Abduction by Parents

July 2 , 2013

Source: The Huffington Post

In recent years, the world has seemed a more connected place.


Palm-sized technology has condensed contact between continents while the flow of people across time zones has increased dramatically.

Experience of new horizons – and the different cultures, cuisines and tongues which comes from it – has made for a more cosmopolitan life.

However, official research and the daily caseload of myself and other family lawyers all too often illustrates that there can be negative consequences.

The number of international family disputes requiring the involvement of UK courts has almost quadrupled in the space of only four years, according to a report published by one of this country’s most senior judges.

The data, which was published by Lord Justice Thorpe, who acts as the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales, showed there were only three new cases of that type handled by the office in 2007. The following year, the total had risen to 65 but by the end of last year, it had reached 253.

Lord Justice Thorpe said that the matters involved child abduction, adoption and forced marriage and were due, he claimed, to “globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international”.

His remarks confirm something which is all too apparent to myself and my colleagues atPannone LLP, as we have remarked upon previously.

The comments are also supported by figures released not by the courts but by Government which evidenced what many believe to be at the heart of the trend which Lord Justice Thorpe is witnessing.


Last year, the Foreign Office published its own figures, illustrating that the number of parental child abductions which it had been called upon to assist in had climbed by 88 per cent in a decade.

It revealed that a specialist unit which it had set up to deal with the problem was getting four calls every day, half of which were turning into new cases.

Of course, it is not only relationships forged by individuals of different nationalities which run into difficulties. However, when these partnerships break down, there is often a natural tendency to return to family and familiar surroundings to recover from any feelings of disappointment or distress.

Where children are involved, such matters become more complicated, especially when one or other partner decides to remove them from the country in which they had been resident.

A country’s incidence of these sorts of cases mirror its ties with other states. The Foreign Office cited parental child abductions involving 84 different nations. According to Lord Justice Thorpe’s report, Poland, Pakistan and Spain were the three places which featured most frequently in the disputes which came to his attention.

Once removed, children are sometimes only returned after a complex process which can be long and drawn out. There can be serious ramifications for the families concerned, both legally and emotionally.

Taking a child out of the country without the express permission of a court or the other parent can be a criminal offence. No matter how comforting the prospect of returning to one’s family overseas might seem once a relationship has broken down the consequences need to be seriously considered.

Sadly, my workload and that of other family lawyers specialising in these cases shows no sign of letting up, regardless of the legal and personal consequences. If anything, the increasingly common nature of international partnerships makes further rises likely.

Given the prominence of Poland in figures from both Lord Justice Thorpe and the Foreign Office, it will be interesting to see whether allowing two other East European countries – Romania and Bulgaria – to live elsewhere across the continent without limitation will further fuel the number of international family units living in Britain and the terrible complications of their breaking apart.

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Child Abduction: Cases Rise By 88%, Foreign Office Warn Parents ‘May Never Have Child Returned’

February 21, 2013

Source: Huffington Post

British families whose children are abducted abroad by one parent or other family members are being warned they may never get their child back, with the number of children going missing having almost doubled

New figures reveal that the number of parental child abduction cases dealt with by the Foreign Office has risen by 88% in just under a decade.

adam jones

Adam Jones and his mother Rebecca, who says he has been held in Qatar since 2009

Many of the cases have been high-profile stories, including British 13-year-old Adam Jones, apparently held in Qatar by his late father’s family. His mother Rebecca Jones said she had been trying to bring him home since 2009.

Another mother, Leila Sabra has organised protests in Westminster to raise awareness of the case of her five-year-old daughter A’ishah, who is in Egypt after her dad allegedly failed to return her after a routine custody visit in 2009.

An investigation into the trend by The Huffington Post UK, found that in the UK it is estimated more than 140,000 children go missing every year, one every three minutes.

The statistic was calculated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, which includes teenage runaways, parental abductions and kidnappings.

In the new stats released on Wednesday, last year alone the Foreign Office’s Child Abduction Section fielded an average of four calls per day to its specialist advice line, more than half of which were new cases.

Cases were worked on in 84 different countries, showing just how widespread the problem has become.

The Foreign Office also warned that they often have little power to intervene in foreign cases.

child abduction

Estelle Clayton, who went missing for six weeks after she was taken abroad by her father, back home with her mother, Aneta, is one of thousands who go missing each year

In the report, it states: “The research we commissioned shows that half the UK population believes the government can intervene to order the return of a child to the UK if he or she has been abducted by a parent.

“The reality is that whilst help is available, parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve. This has significant impact on those concerned and there is the strong possibility that the child may never be returned.

“It is also much harder to return a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.”

The research also shows that 24% of those polled said they did not think it was a crime for a parent to take their child overseas, and three-quarters believed it was fathers who were more likely to abduct a child. In reality, 70% of the time, it is mothers who take their children.


Why British Law Means Parents May Be Powerless To Get Their Children Back

Adam Jones, 13, ‘Kidnapped In Qatar’ And Desperate To Come Home, Says Mother Rebecca

The UK’s Missing Children Conundrum (BLOG)

Children in a Legal Vacuum: International Child Abduction (BLOG)

The UK government also warned that the parents, not the state, would bear the costs of fighting the case in foreign courts.

Daisy Organ, head of the Foreign Office Child Abduction Section said: “The increase in parental child abduction cases is a major cause for concern, particularly in the lead up to the school holidays; we know that before or during school holidays is one of the most common times for a child to be abducted.”

Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of child abduction charity Reunite, said in response to the report: “It is important to remember that parental child abduction is not faith or country specific. 71% of the UK public thought that parents most commonly abduct their children to the Middle East, India and Pakistan but it can happen to anyone, from any background.

“Countries where children are abducted to can range from Australia, to France, to Thailand.”

Shalaby, whose own daughter was abducted by her father and taken to Egypt, said: “We have seen a 20% increase in calls made to our helpline in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011 and a 67% increase in the number of children who have been abducted by a parent to a non-Hague country between 2001 and 2011.

“This issue is not going away and with a 47% increase in the number of child abduction cases Reunite has worked on between 2001 and 2011, we are urging parents to think twice before they abduct their child or seek help if they think their child is at risk.”

She told The Huffington Post UK in August: “There is a misconception that the government can do something about it. But they have no power to dictate to a foreign country, to tell them to adopt the Hague Convention.”

Tanya Roberts, partner in family law at Charles Russell LLP, told The Huffington Post UK the statistics were not “much of a surprise. Firstly, that abductions are on the increase – this may well be due to the level of international marriages in more recent years.

“Secondly, that some people are unaware that what they are doing constitutes an abduction, like mothers taking their children back to the mother’s “home”; and thirdly that mothers are more likely to be the abducting parent than fathers.

“The press on the whole concentrates on the extreme abduction cases, often by fathers but they are much rarer than the perception.

“The statistics support that, with 70% of abductions by mothers, again this is often the “going home” scenario.”

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November 21, 2012

Source: hvinsider.com

Having done legal work for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for decades, the most important thing to know is that, not only is family abduction a crime, it is considered a form of child abuse.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: “family abduction has been characterized as a form of child abuse because of the harmful effects it has on children. Abducted children may be forced to lead a fugitive life under assumed names, sometimes with altered appearances, and kept out of school to avoid detection. The abductor may tell them the left-behind parent abandoned them, does not love them, or is dead. They may be neglected by their abductors and indoctrinated to fear law-enforcement officers and other adults who might help them.

In addition to possible long-term psychological harm, abducted children may be physically harmed at the time of the abduction as well as during the period of concealment. Parents most likely to harm their children are those who have serious mental and personality disorders, a history of violence or abuse, or little or no prior relationship with their child.

If you have ever seen the heartache of a parent who doesn’t know if their child(ren) is alive or dead, you will take this seriously. The last time I was involved in a Family Abduction, the abductor was found living on the West Coast, in a campgroup, with the children, by alert citizens who had seen the children on a milk carton.

For more information about the impact of abduction on victim children contact Take Root, an organization of adult members who were victims of parental abduction as children. Visitwww.takeroot.org or call toll-free at 1-800-ROOT-ORG (1-800-766-8674).”

For even a more in-depth look at Family Abduction please see the link below.



One key to ABP World Group`s successful recovery and re-unification of your loved one is to use all necessary means available

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