Eight year old kidnapped child returns home but still in shock [Archives:2009/1222/Front Page]

January 5 2009

Enas Ahmed Alawami
and Ali Saeed

SANA'A, Jan 4 ) Ali Mohammed Al-Odaini, 8, was able to celebrate the New Year with his family after spending almost one month as a hostage of the Bani Dhabyan Khawlan tribe.

“I missed my family so much and especially missed my best friend Essa. I never want to go to that place again,” said the child.

He was released on Wednesday Dec 31, 2008 after an intensive media campaign triggered by the child's family who complained that the state was not interested in their child's safety.

“I wished my son was a German or of any other nationality so that our ordeal would be of concern to someone. But now I am only glad that he is back although I fear he might have developed some kind of emotional set back,” said Ali's mother Afrah Mohammed Saeed Al-Kamel, a widowed and mother of eight – Ali being her youngest.

Another clan of the same tribe had kidnapped three Germans for three days before enormous efforts by the government, tribal mediators and the German embassy in Yemen got them released.

Ali was kidnapped on Dec. 3, 11 days before the Germans were kidnapped and remained in custody after they were released until tribal figure and the ministry of interior was able to release the child and bring him home.

He was mistaken for another boy named Ali who goes to the same school and lives in the neighborhood; the other Ali is a son of a rich businessman Tawfeq Al-Khamiri, who was in conflict with this tribe over a business deal gone wrong and more than USD 490,000.

The kidnapping was immediately reported to the police along with a description of the kidnappers. The license plate number of the car was also reported.

The mother said that her family does not know Al-Khamiri and hence they have no relations with him. She also said that she did not contact him or his family. “Al-Khamiri is merely our neighbor,” the mother explained.

“We contacted the Ministry of Interior and the German ambassador through Nabeel Al-Basha, a member of parliament. The government promised to free my child,” she said.

The kidnappers agreed to let the child go on condition that the government will solve their dispute with Al-Khamiri.

During his stay at Bani Dhabyan, Ali remembers falling ill, and the kidnappers bringing in a doctor to see him. His mother has no way of finding out what really happened with him during his ordeal although he assured her that the kidnappers took care of him.

“I used to tell him not to wander in the streets because the bad man will come and take him and do him harm; I never knew that one day my threats would come true. My poor child must have been so scared when they snatched him, he must of thought they were the bad men I kept telling him about,” his mother said through her tears.

Gradually he is readjusting to his normal life he had before being kidnapped, although he keeps reflecting on how different the tribal men were and how “tough and rough and full of guns” they were.

Ali comes from a poor family originally from Ibb but now living in Sana'a. The family lived in a small house with two rooms that was offered to us by a charitable benefactor.

“I had gone to school early that day because Essa challenged me on who would reach the school first, when I was near the school around seven in the morning a group of armed men grabbed me from the street and shoved me into a car, I thought they will kill me,” remembered Ali with a sad look.

His friend Essa was one of the highlights of his return home although he still suffers from insecurity and the fear of being taken again.

He remembered the kidnappers and how they pushed him under their feet in the back seat of the four wheel drive car so that he would not be noticed by the police in the check points as they sped away.

“When we reached the country side they let me come out from under their shoes and sit beside them, when they realized I was not the boy the wanted they were angry but then they told me not to be afraid gave me candy and told me to say that my name was Ali Al-Khamiri,” the child recalled.

Sheikh Abdul Qawi Shereif, the deputy of the Aldhalae governorate, and the head sheikhs of the Bani Dhabyan tribe convinced the kidnappers to return the child through the Ministry of Interior. He was also the same person behind the release of the German hostages.

Ali's family has taken him to see a psychiatrist to help him overcome the shock but she commented that her son is not his usual bubbly self.

“He has become very timid, and accepts anything without questioning or even speaking up. He used to be much more outspoken sometimes even rebellious,” his uncle Faraj Abdulbaqi Kulaib observed.

He retuned to school on Saturday Jan. 3, 2008. His classmates applauded him when he showed up in class and the administration is organizing a welcoming back party for him soon.