By Jerry Gordon
One of horrors that have confronted American women who naïvely marry Saudi men is the possible risk of having children of those marriages kidnapped following divorce in accordance with Sharia and removed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are estimated to be in excess of 1,000 such cases.
A few have been featured in investigative reports on CBS 60 Minutes and Fox News' The O’Reilly Factor. Frequently American wives of Saudis and other fundamentalist Muslims are physically abused and maltreated under Sharia. We saw that in our interview with American feminist Phyllis Chesler about her experience following a marriage to an Afghan Muslim husband educated in the West upon her arrival at the family compound in Kabul. See The New English Review Flight from an Afghan Seraglio and An American Feminist Fighting Sharia: an Interview with Dr. Phyllis Chesler (January 2014).
In the current debates in state legislatures over consideration of American Laws for American Courts, legislators often ask, “is this legislation really needed to address foreign laws and doctrines” that intrude on the fundamental Constitution Rights of American citizens? Often cited are cases that have recognized Sharia doctrine in state appellate and lower courts. Illustrative of the compelling need for such protections are the numerous incidents involving spousal abuse of American wives and kidnapping of children in divorce cases, where under Shariah, the Muslim ex-husbands can exercise rights to remove their children even though doing so may violate US criminal laws.
Last September during a presentation I gave before an ACT! For America chapter in Jonesboro, Arkansas, I encountered Professor Margaret McClain, then on the faculty of Arkansas State University (ASU). She has since retired after 30 years at ASU.
In the late 1980’s Professor McClain was a faculty member teaching English as a Second Language in a special program for Saudi Students entering ASU. She had been recently widowed and met a Saudi graduate student, a Computer Science major at a university event. Thus began what eventuated in an exploitative marriage that produced a child, Heidi. McClain suffered frequent physical and psychological abuse during the marriage at the hands of her Saudi husband for her refusal to be compliant. That led to a divorce and custody of Heidi granted to Professor McClain under Arkansas law. Upon Professor McClain’s subsequent marriage to an American following the divorce, her Saudi ex-husband conspired with a more compliant American convert to Islam to kidnap and remove Heidi, then five years old, to Saudi Arabia.
Professor McClain was one of several American wives with Saudi ex-husbands who abducted and removed children to Saudi Arabia in violation of state, federal and international parental kidnapping laws. These women testified about these cases before Congrees during the 107th Session. The US State Department had set up the Office of Child Issues to deal with complaints and conduct investigations of such abuses. Media stories sparked by 9/11 led the US. House of Repesentatives Government Reform Committee, then chaired by former Indiana Republican Dan Burton, to hold five days of hearings from June to December 2002.
The Committee published a final report, Investigation into Abductions of American Children to Saudi Arabia. In one instance, the Committee heard from a 16 year old daughter of a Florida woman, Dria Hernandez-Davis, about her experience of living under difficult circumstances and her remarkable escape and rescue. A rescue privately financed with $200,000 in bribes provided by her grandmother who sold her home to obtain the necessary funds. The US State Department Office of Child Issues and the US Embassy legation in Riyadh appeared to have offered little assistance to rescue these children.
Professor McClain consented to tell her story about the kidnapping of her American daughter, Heidi, by her Saudi ex-husband to alert other Americans as to the dangers of Shariah law sanctioning spousal abuse and criminal violations of US laws against kidnapping. Heidi is now 21 years old. Professor McClain last visited her six years ago under intense restrictions in Saudi Arabia. Only her older daughter Roxanne by a prior marriage has had periodic contact with Heidi in Saudi Arabia.
Against this background, we reached out to Professor McClain for this interview:
Jerry Gordon: Professor McClain thank you for consenting to this interview.
Margaret McClain: Thank you for inviting me.
Gordon: Where did you meet your Saudi ex-husband?
McClain: I met Abdulbaset Al-Omary at a university function at Arkansas State University.
Gordon: What was his position in Jonesboro at the time of your marriage?
McClain: He was a graduate student in Computer Science.
Gordon: What was his marital status at the time of his marriage to you?
McCLain: As far as I knew, he was single.
Gordon: Under which laws was the marriage conducted?
McClain: We had two wedding ceremonies. The first was a civil ceremony performed by an American judge. Al-Omary stated that he did not want a church wedding, but he mentioned that he could not obtain a “green card” without the legal paperwork. Our second ceremony was performed by an American-Iraqi employee of the university and the State Department; this gentleman acted as interpreter for the Saudi Arabian Customs Project, in which I was employed for almost ten years. Dr. Al-Sharbati explained that he did not have the credentials to perform weddings in Arkansas, but my fiancé insisted that such a marriage was the only one he considered legal under Shariah law. Besides, he added, if I traveled to Saudi Arabia with him, we could only be admitted if we were married under Islamic law.
Gordon: When did you give birth to your daughter Heidi al-Omary?
McClain: We married in 1989, and Heidi was born in July of 1992.
Gordon: What did your ex-husband tell you about his control over you following the marriage?
McClain: Al-Omary told me on our wedding day, to my great shock and horror, that since I was now his wife, I would have to cover my head with a veil. Not wishing to argue, I think I countered with some excuse that I would not be seen teaching in front of a class wearing a veil. I believe I also mentioned that I could be fired for covering up. Al-Omary was a freeloader and I was his sole source of support while he was a student. He knew if I lost my job, he might actually have to go to work. Many of his attempts to control me were subtle or psychological torture.
The idea was to beat me down and try to make me submissive to him. For example, one day he came home without his car; he announced that he had sold it because he needed the money. Soon, he started chauffeuring me around – to school, shopping, etc. It seemed that he gradually spent more and more time away from home (mostly with his buddies at the mosque), and I was left without a car. One weekend, the temperature was in the 90s and he took off to the mosque in Memphis, leaving Heidi and me without transportation.
I had to get something from the store, probably diapers or formula, so I walked the three blocks, carrying Heidi in my arms. When I returned home, I found that I had locked myself out and I just sat down on the front step and cried. I pulled myself together, left Al-Omary a note, and ordered a taxi to take us to a motel. Hours later Al-Omary showed up at the motel. I was so upset that I sent him home because I wanted to spend the night away from him. He just laughed because he was a sadist and enjoyed seeing others’ pain.
From that point on, I took back control of my car keys and my car, reminding him that he was endangering his daughter’s life by his selfish behavior.
Gordon: What precipitated your divorce from Mr. Omary?
McClain: When Al-Omary gradually realized that I was not going to be as easy to convert as he had thought, he gradually became more and more abusive. His religious activities increased, and he was elected Assistant Director of the Jonesboro Islamic Center. He brought home loads of terrorist literature, which he expected me to read. When I questioned some of the ridiculous statements in the brochures, he yelled and even slapped me.
I had broken bones on several occasions, and when I became pregnant again, I suffered a miscarriage due to a beating. Heidi was one year old at this time. That was almost the last straw. The last straw occurred when I was backing out of my driveway to take Heidi to her day care center. Al-Omary was running all around my car, kicking at the windows to make me stop. He was a karate expert, six foot three, and about 240 pounds.
When he went to the back window and started kicking inches from Heidi’s face where she was sitting in her car seat, I had to stop the car to save my child’s life. I was envisioning glass shards all over her; it was clear to me that he could have killed or blinded her. Al-Omary was livid because I had removed Heidi from the care of a Muslim woman, whom I found sleeping while my daughter was climbing the stairs. She had left her eight-year-old in charge of all the babies. My only concern was to protect my daughter.
I had already come to the realization that this marriage was over. I hated my husband because he had tried to kill me and my child. The Monday after this latest disturbing incident, I appeared before a judge to ask for an ex parte protective order. On Tuesday, I called two officers to remove Al-Omary from my home—he later claimed and told everyone that it was a SWAT team! The following Monday we returned to court so that he could challenge the protective order. Fortunately, the order remained in place for the next month, which gave me time to start divorce proceedings.
At another point, my uneasiness about Al-Omary’s stated desire to keep his green card and work in the US had increased. I realized that he had lied under oath to an immigration official to obtain his green card, thus committing immigration fraud.
I began to feel like an accomplice, like I was used – to help him obtain immigration, to be the breadwinner, and to be his tutor to help him get through college. His stated intention to get a real job came to nothing. He went to Memphis to take the National Guard entrance test and told me he made the highest math score ever – probably another lie. I was happy that he would have a part-time job and help out with expenses.
A week later, he announced that his religion forbade him from taking up arms against other Muslims; he said that if the National Guard ended up in a conflict in the Middle East, it would go against Shariah for him to kill other Muslims (although they do seem to kill each other regularly).
Gordon: Under which laws were the divorce and custody agreements granted?
McClain: The divorce and custody agreement were granted in an Arkansas court. Although I tried to ask for supervised visitation, my lawyer said this was a waste of time. Unfortunately, the lawyer I chose was actually mentally ill and incompetent. He later committed suicide. I was stuck with a bad divorce decree, and my daughter from that moment on lived under the shadow of a kidnapping threat. The next four years were the most stressful of my life as I anticipated what I knew he was going to do. The question was not “if,” but “when.”
At one point Al-Omary tried to get me to take him back and stated that he had not divorced me yet under Shariah law. I didn’t care whether he had or not because I was well rid of him. There are no divorce decrees in Sharia; apparently, the husband can just declare three times in front of witnesses that he divorces his wife.
Gordon: What visitation rights were granted to your ex-husband under the terms of the divorce decree?
McClain: Heidi was allowed to visit her father every other weekend and six weeks in the summer, although in actuality, she did not spend much of that time with him. Sometimes he traveled to Saudi Arabia for months at a time, so Heidi barely knew him. On weekends, he would keep her for a few hours and then drop her off back at home. I found out that on one of his trips home, he had married his cousin and brought her back to the US. I never saw the woman, but Heidi told me about her. I don’t even know if she was of legal age here in the US. Al-Omary had once announced that since Mohammed had married a nine-year-old, he planned to emulate him. He told the court that she was his cousin and was staying with him to receive medical treatment. That was bogus!
According to Shariah law, a man cannot live or travel with any female relative who could be a potential mate—that includes cousins. Al-Omary had no trouble lying under oath, and indeed, this is another aspect of Shariah law—lying to non-Muslims is not only permitted, but it’s a duty. The American courts just don’t get it. Few of our judges have been trained in Shariah law and they really don’t know of its pitfalls and dangers to our society.
Our judges believe in freedom of religion because it is a tenet of the Constitution; what they don’t know is that Islam is not just a religion—it is an all-encompassing social, secular, religious, political, and economic system—one whose sole purpose is to deny the religious freedom of everyone else.
Our divorce was not final yet, so he was basically committing bigamy, thumbing his nose at the authorities. I reported this crime and violation of our visitation agreement, whereby he was to have no members of the opposite sex in the home while my daughter was there unless he could prove they were legally married under the laws of the United States. He never provided this proof.
Keep in mind that during this time Al-Omary was still a student, so he was trying his best to drag out the divorce as long as possible. He risked deportation and loss of his green card if we divorced too soon.
A year later, he compounded the crime of bigamy into polygamy by marrying under Shariah law a local nurse who had converted to Islam. I found out about her when Heidi asked me one day, “Who is that woman in Daddy’s bed?” I was shocked but not surprised and decided to confront him about her.
Again, Al-Omary thumbed his nose at the law—a law which he did not recognize. A Jonesboro ex-police officer told me all about her; she had been married to another cop and she had two grown sons. This situation led to a landmark decision for the law books in Arkansas – that a marriage conducted under Shariah law would not be recognized in the state of Arkansas unless the person officiating had the necessary credentials to perform marriages in the state.
Gordon: What were the events that triggered Heidi’s abduction and removal to Saudi Arabia by your ex-husband?
McClain: There may have been one event that precipitated the abduction and that was my remarriage. Shariah law does not allow a woman to keep her children if she remarries. Whether I had remarried or not, gotten divorced or not, I believe Al-Omary planned the abduction from the day Heidi was born. He was becoming more and more radical as he listened to the teachings of the local imam and the radical firebrands at the Memphis mosque. On one occasion, he did state that he thought he could make a life in the US, but now he realized that he could not raise his child in the US to be a good Muslim. This was another red flag.
Gordon: Under which laws did Mr. Al-Omary claim his right to full custody of Heidi?
McClain: Since I had remarried, it was clear to him under Shariah law, that he was duty-bound to remove Heidi from my custody – whether by legal or illegal means. He did not care at all about US laws, so his course of action was clear.
Gordon: How old was Heidi at the time of her abduction by your ex-husband and who was his accomplice?
McClain: Heidi was 5 years old; it was the day before she was to start kindergarten. She had visited the school, met her teacher, and was extremely excited about starting this stage of her life. Her father took that away from her, and I learned that she did not attend school for a whole year after her abduction.
One of his accomplices was his new American wife, Jayne Brussel; the police searched the home as Jayne screamed about her civil rights. She claimed to know nothing about Al-Omary’s intentions, yet for two days she did not report them missing. Then six months later she was living in Saudi Arabia, being a mother to my daughter and abandoning her own sons. Al-Omary had a way of preying on vulnerable, gullible women. Jayne was his victim too, and when he was done with her, she returned to the US.
There were some cousins in Fairfax, Virginia who coincidentally left the US at the same time; the female cousin ostensibly traveled back to Saudi Arabia, posing as Heidi’s mother.
It is my feeling that his brother, who was working with Saudi Airlines, had something to do with getting the kidnapper tickets to leave the country.
Gordon: What were your initial steps following Heidi’s abduction regarding notification of law enforcement and your attorney?
McClain: I received a phone message from Al-Omary that he and Heidi were in Saudi Arabia at his cousin’s home and that if I ever wanted to see my daughter again, I was not to contact the police. I called the Jonesboro Police immediately. Hoping that Heidi was still in the US at her cousin’s home, my husband and I drove all night to Fairfax VA, where we had the local police search the home of the cousin; the place had been recently and hastily vacated. A neighbor reported that the wife and children had just departed for Saudi Arabia.
Gordon: What advice and assistance did they offer you?
McClain: The Jonesboro Police issued a warrant and searched Al-Omary’s house. Then they asked for a bench warrant for failure to pay child support. After returning from Fairfax, I approached the district attorney, who almost refused to issue and UFAP (Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution) warrant, until I got my congressman involved. I told the prosecutor that he had to issue a warrant when a child was taken across state lines. Finally, he relented and then the FBI was able to become involved.
When I returned from Fairfax, I contacted my new lawyer; he of his own volition and without charging me, applied and received an order removing my ex-husband’s visitation privileges and parental rights. Then he notified immigration and had Al-Omary’s green card rescinded.
Gordon: When did you receive word that your ex-husband had taken Heidi to Saudi Arabia?
McClain: I believe he left the phone message on the 14th of August, 1997, but I really don’t know how many days he had been gone with her—possibly 2 or 3.
Gordon: Did you reach out to our State Department to make contact with the Royal Saudi Arabian Embassy to lodge a complaint and investigation regarding the whereabouts of Heidi and her father? What was the result?
McClain: I sent in voluminous paperwork to register Heidi with the Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department. They appointed a series of caseworkers over the years, but I have the feeling they didn’t do much to find Heidi. My older daughter, Roxanne, after Heidi had been missing two years, was able to get Al-Omary on the phone through Directory Assistance in Dammam. One of my son’s computer-savvy friends was able to trace several threatening emails that Al-Omary sent to me just to taunt me.
We determined that he was working for the ARAMCO Oil Company in Dhahran. How hard would it have been for the State Department and its Consulate in Dhahran that is right down the road from ARAMCO to look for him in the phone book? They knew where he was, but my child was not as important as the Saudi oil “clients” that the State Department so carefully cultivates and placates.
At one point, I emailed someone with an American-sounding name at ARAMCO, asking for help. That person contacted me anonymously after he returned to the US; he stated he was a lawyer for ARAMCO and said he had gotten into Al-Omary’s personnel file, where he found out where Heidi received her medical care, and that she was apparently in good health. This helpful stranger was fearful of losing his job, so he did not feel that he could contact me further.
I approached my then US senator, Tim Hutchinson, and he sent faxes to the CEO of ARAMCO every day to the effect that the company had an international fugitive on its payroll. Al-Omary by now had INTERPOL red and yellow notices on him. The CEO of ARAMCO was very sensitive to his company’s public image, and I made sure that I besmirched the image in every speech or article that I wrote.
Shortly thereafter, I came into contact with a lady at the Saudi Embassy through the efforts of my Congresswoman/later Senator (Blanche Lincoln), and my first trip to visit my daughter was arranged at the expense of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Ambassador. Apparently, my ex-husband had been read the riot act by his boss at ARAMCO, and it was made clear to him that he would let me see my daughter, or else. Al-Omary later alluded to the trouble I had caused him!
Gordon: When did you receive visitation rights to visit your daughter in Saudi Arabia and under what conditions?
McClain: The first time I visited Heidi was when she was 9 years old. The conditions were horrible because my ex-husband tried a ploy to keep me away from her. We were supposed to meet at the US Consulate in Dhahran. He and his thuggish brothers escaped to Riyadh, leaving a message that some uncle had died. (The uncle was alive and well.) The Consular officials were upset and embarrassed, and made sure that the Embassy in Riyadh was aware. They tracked Al-Omary down and set up a meeting.
I sat in an SUV with an interpreter and a bodyguard as we sped across the desert for hours and hours in 130 degree temperatures. Every time the driver got out of the armored SUV, he checked underneath for bombs. First he showed up to the Holiday Inn without my daughter and sat there spewing insults at me for an hour. I kept asking about my daughter and started to walk out of the meeting. I was mad and let him know it to the point that the Consular officials feared that their efforts would end up in a big embarrassment.
Finally, we had to follow Al-Omary to some house in the suburbs, where Heidi was playing ball in the basement. She was quiet and I talked to her for only a few minutes under the constant surveillance of her father. She said that she cried for a whole year because she missed me so much and said she wanted to come back home. Then the visit was over, ending on a sour note when Al-Omary censored all the toys, books, and other presents I had brought for Heidi.
Gordon: How many times did you visit her and when was the last time?
McClain: I have visited her three times. The last time she was 15 years old, and she indicated to me that she wanted to die for her religion. I lost hope of ever seeing her be a normal person again. She was brainwashed into thinking that suicide bombing was an acceptable way to practice her religion. She no longer wanted to come home. Another thing she said that made me fear for her life was when she described the Oasis bombing and massacre that happened near her school, which was under lockdown. No child, and especially a girl, is safe in that country.
Gordon: How old is Heidi at this time and do you know what her status is in Saudi Arabia?
McClain: She is 21 years old, living with her father and his 3rd/4th? wife and their young children. Heidi had gone to Riyadh to start college, but came home after a semester. I believe she is doing online courses now. As far as I know, she is not married, and I really think that because of her father she will never trust any man.
Gordon: To your knowledge how many other American women have had similar experiences and have there been any instances in which abducted children were returned?
McClain: I really cannot estimate. I have heard numbers like 1,000. There are many women and children held prisoner over there, with no way of getting to a US Embassy to complain. Those that do are often turned away and sent back home to their abusive husbands. That’s what happened to Monica Stowers, who sought refuge with her two children; she was turned away at the end of the business day when Marines escorted her out with tears in their eyes. Her ex-husband has made numerous attempts on her life. Her adult children are both married; this March her daughter is coming to visit Monica in Texas for the first time since she was a baby.
Another mother received an urgent email from her kidnapped daughter, asking her to go to the Philippines to rescue her. The mother was able to get the daughter out, but the younger siblings had to be left behind.
One other girl from Florida was able to buy her way out of Saudi Arabia; her grandmother in the US mortgaged her home to rescue the girl. The father had been beating the girl every day to make her convert to Islam, but the girl refused. He demeaned and humiliated her by not allowing her to eat with the family; she had to sit on the floor and eat like a dog.
None of the children were ever voluntarily returned from Saudi Arabia, and no Saudi court has ever turned over custody to a non-Saudi parent. Even one American Muslim man was denied custody or visitation with his children.
Gordon: Do you believe that your experience and those of other American women who have lost their children to Saudi abductions was done in accordance with Shariah Law?
McClain: Yes, I do. I don’t just believe this; Shariah is a fact of Saudi life, and all legal decisions are made under the auspices of the muttawain, imams and mullahs, who rule even the King. There are no judges per se; the Saudis call them judges, but they are religious clerics. Their training in the law is done only at theological schools. There is no other law in Saudi Arabia or much of the Middle East. Some countries, like Turkey, do have secular as well as religious jurisprudence. Saudi Arabia considers itself the protector of Islam in its original form and thus spends billions to export Wahhabism all over the world, including right here to America.
Gordon: Professor McClain, thank you for telling the story about the kidnapping and loss of your daughter Heidi to Saudi Sharia.
McClain: Thank you for affording me the opportunity to tell my story.