Tales of Kuwaiti terror spill out at BWI arrival

September 11, 1990|By Laura Lippmanand Jacques Kelly | Laura Lippmanand Jacques Kelly,Evening Sun Staff

At 7 years old, Ali has already seen far too much.

Since Iraqi soldiers invaded his homeland of Kuwait five weeks ago, this solemn-eyed child has seen a corpse in his family's former apartment, a drive-by shooting on the street outside his home and explosions on the nearby highway.

The son of a Kuwaiti man and an American woman, Ali was one of 90 children who arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday in the week's second airlift from Kuwait and Iraq.

"My children have seen a lot more than most children see on TV," said Ali's mother, Karen, who planned to take Ali, 5-year-old Amira and 17-month-old Nawaf to her family's home in Wisconsin.

Another young mother, too frightened to give her name, said her children no longer flinched when they heard bombs going off, something they should be spared when they settle in Arizona.

Three little Jordanian boys had to get "American haircuts" in order to ensure their safe passage out of Kuwait, explained their father, a mechanical engineer.

And, while there were conflicting reports on food shortages in Kuwait, all the children rushed for snacks when they arrived in Baltimore yesterday, ravenous for fruit, cheese and bread, said University of Maryland nurse Lynn Klair, a volunteer who assisted in the arrival.

These young eyewitnesses to the crisis in the Persian Gulf made HTC up more than half of the 161 passengers and crew members on the chartered American Trans-Air jet from London. They landed at BWI about 5 p.m. yesterday, only to find their journeys were far from over.

"They didn't say they wanted to go to BWI, they didn't say they wanted to go to Maryland," said Maryland Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Helen Szablya. "But the State Department said they had to come here."

While almost half of those on the plane opted to spend the night at the BWI-Sheraton before continuing on to their final destinations, others rushed to make connecting flights out of BWI last night.

The "repatriates" -- the official tag bestowed on them by the state and federal agencies assisting them -- had ties to cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest. But, they also still had ties to the country they had escaped, usually in the form of fathers, brothers and husbands.

They had been traveling two days when their jet finally touched down at BWI, where state and federal agencies had been preparing all weekend for their arrival. They then waited almost another hour on the ground before they were ferried to the Butler Aviation hangar, where they went through customs and received whatever assistance they needed -- shelter, medical care, food, cash loans.

After passing through customs and making travel arrangements, a few agreed to share their stories. But, all did so with trepidation, insisting on using only first names or no names at all. They feared any candor would come at the expense of those they had left behind.

"It's a ghost town," said a Philadelphia woman named Angel, who had been visiting her brother and sister-in-law in Kuwait. "Food is very scarce. Everything is broken down. They stole everything. The only thing they are afraid to cut off is the electricity and the water."

Angel hid in her brother's home, along with her 13-year-old daughter. Although she ventured out dressed as a Kuwaiti woman, she soon found she had to stay indoors, even avoiding the windows. When soldiers searched door to door, demanding identification papers, her Egyptian-accented Arabic almost gave her away.

Easily the most dramatic arrival into the country was made by Diane, a Rhode Island woman. She fell to her knees and kissed the asphalt outside Butler Aviation, almost losing her black high-heeled pumps and temporarily ignoring her 4-year-old son, Ahmed.

"I love America!" the pale young brunette said later, as she went to meet the press.

But her high spirits ebbed as she described a Kuwait where "the Iraqis are looting everything that isn't nailed down. They are taking the medicine. They are taking the chemotherapy machines from the hospitals. The baby incubators. The tires from the cars. Our Safeway is bombed."

A 19-year-old woman, the daughter of an American woman and a Kuwaiti man, said: "They want to kill all the young Kuwaitis who could fight back. There is no law and order. A soldier can rape a father's daughter in front of him.

"It's very dangerous for girls, women. Whatever they feel like doing, they'll do it."

BWI is one of four sites in the Northeast used as a destination for Americans who are allowed to leave Kuwait and Iraq. Although mostly women and children have been ferried home in the previous three airlifts, there were several men on yesterday's flight.

More than 100 people, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, were on hand to greet and assist the repatriates as they entered the hangar. Schaefer, who had inspected the site earlier in the day, had insisted on additional decorative touches, including a red carpet, roses and an oversized American flag from Fort McHenry.

The coordinated effort -- which included an array of state and federal agencies, along with volunteers from the Red Cross and Salvation Army -- was considered a success by officials, who finished processing everyone in about four hours.

But one airport worker, who did not give his name, said it was surprising how many people had arrived who had no family or friends in the United States and no resources. And one family of four had to check into a motel when they missed their flight to Chicago by five minutes.

"We were on the ground for an hour, doing nothing," the father fumed. "And they can't even hold a plane for five minutes."

Spokesmen with the Maryland Department of Human Resources said they expect BWI to be used again for a mass repatriation, possibly within the next week to 10 days. Although the U.S. State Department has no exact figure on the number of Americans in Kuwait and Iraq, the estimate has been as high as 2,500.

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