Released hostages describe horrors

September 17, 1990|By Jay Merwinand Drew Bailey | Jay Merwinand Drew Bailey,Evening Sun Staff

Among the latest group of hostages to leave Kuwait and arrive in Baltimore was an American woman in traditional Arab headdress who told of barbarous treatment at the hands of the Iraqi invaders and called for war to stop it.

"I'd like to ask the United Nations to take military action to free Kuwait," said the woman, who declined to give her name yesterday.

The people she left behind are desperate for help, she said. "They want military action. Because it hasn't happened yet, their morale is getting lower and lower."

The woman was one of 160 people to arrive yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport from Kuwait. Her flight was the third delivery of hostages and refugees into BWI. On Saturday, 285 others came; last Monday, 140.

The State Department said that 54 of yesterday's arrivals were U.S. citizens, and that the rest were other nationalities, but with American connections, such as a child born in this country.

The American woman, who said she had been hiding in Kuwait, was one of the few hostages who volunteered to speak publicly of her ordeal.

She held a toddler in her arms and her voice trembled with anger as she spoke of Iraqi soldiers shooting at Kuwaitis who stood on the rooftops to yell "God is Great." She said others had been tortured and killed for possessing newspaper articles.

Iraqi soldiers had driven patients from nursing homes and mental institutions and looted hospitals, taking away blood supplies and infant incubators, she said.

"You may be too late to save the innocent people who are being tortured and killed daily," the woman said. She had not seen these ravages first-hand, "but it's true," she said.

Bettina and Waleed, a brother and sister who had come to meet their mother, were as outraged as the American woman about the invasion. But they wanted a peaceful solution to the Persian Gulf crisis, they said, because "we have a lot of family back there" who would be in harm's way.

Their mother, an American, arrived yesterday to join them in this country. Because their father, a Kuwaiti, stayed behind with other relatives, "the problem doesn't end right there," said Bettina. She and her brother are students at a college in Washington.

Bettina, Waleed and their mother declined to give their last name or say much more about their family in Kuwait for fear of reprisals there and in this country. "You never know," Bettina said.

Another hostage, a pediatrician of Indian heritage, who identified himself as S, spoke of seeing Iraqis stop cars and force the occupants to lie on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs.

S said he and the rest of his family had applied a week ago to the American embassy in Kuwait to be evacuated to join his 18-year-old daughter in Maryland.

The daughter, who gave her name as Maleha Wajid, a student at Harford Community College, said she was born in Chicago while her father was serving his medical residency there. She said her father called yesterday from London to say he was on his way to Baltimore. That was the first she had heard from her family since July, before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.

After stepping onto a tarmac bathed in a rain and television lights, the hostages were ushered into a hangar decked with flags and red, white and blue bunting. Almost 200 workers and volunteers from government and private social service agencies were waiting there to offer counseling, medical help, shelter and loans.

After handing in identification forms at a registration booth, the hostages proceeded to immigration and customs tables that were covered with table cloths and adorned with flowers.

At other booths, the hostages could arrange for temporary shelter at airport hotels and for travel tickets and spending money to reach other destinations. Signet Bank advanced the cash, which was to be reimbursed by the federal government.

Mark Friedman, of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said that except for a few who applied for waivers, the hostages taking advantage of these offers agreed to repay the government the money they had borrowed.

Robert Gould, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency, said that hostages arriving on the first two flights had borrowed $49,800 in travel fare and $58,000 for shelter and other financial aid.

For those who needed counseling, a "stress debriefing team" was on hand from the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. The team's job was mainly to listen to the hostages, said Marge Epperson-SeBour, the team leader. "Once they have landed here, the uncertainty begins to hit."

Fifty Boy Scouts volunteered to carry the hostages' luggage to the airport terminal, buses or nearby hotels.

"I came here to help our country," said Paul Reusing, a senior patrol leader. "These people have had such a hard time. It may make them feel better that we're here to help."

Francine Woodcock, a social worker with the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, said she felt herself taking part in history as she sat at the registration table waiting to greet hostages. "It's something that probably will never happen to you again."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.