Woman freed in kidnapping of grandson

Her daughter took boy to Egypt in custody fight

May 07, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Afaf Nassar Khalifa, an Egyptian grandmother, has often expressed two wishes during her year and a half in a Maryland prison, her attorney says.

One is that she be freed. The other is that the international custody battle over her two grandchildren - the bitter dispute that landed her behind bars - might soon be resolved.

She got her first wish but not the second.

The Maryland Parole Commission has granted her release from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where she has been held since January 2003. She will soon be transferred to the custody of U.S. immigration officials for deportation to Egypt this month, attorney William C. Brennan Jr., said yesterday.

But the custody fight - in which prosecutors say she played a criminal role - rages on.

Khalifa, 61, was convicted Jan. 21, 2003, of helping her daughter, Nermeen Shannon, 35, abduct Adam Shannon, now 7. Adam's father, Michael Shannon, had custody Aug. 25, 2001, when Nermeen Shannon and her mother fled with Adam and his brother, Jason, to Cairo. Nermeen Shannon had custody of Jason, now 3.

The couple separated in 2000 and are divorced. Michael Shannon, a Millersville computer programmer, now has legal custody of both boys.

Nermeen Shannon has remained in Egypt with the boys. She has said she is staying because she is worried that her former husband will harm the children - or her - if they return to Maryland.

But Michael Shannon said yesterday, "It would never happen."

As long as the grandmother remained imprisoned, he said he believed his former wife might return to the United States with their children to help her mother. The judge in the case, Nancy Davis-Loomis of Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, said last year that she would consider reducing Khalifa's sentence if Adam were returned to his father.

"My client's daughter was having to make a decision no one should have to make - the best interest of the children vs. the best interest of her mother," Brennan said.

The grandmother is to be freed without her daughter's help.

The Parole Commission determined two weeks ago that "she was not a threat to the public at large, or a threat to be a recidivist. It also weighed that she was not a violent offender," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Safety and Correctional Services.

The commission grants only about one-third of the parole requests it considers, Vernarelli said.

In May 2003, a three-judge Circuit Court panel had reduced Khalifa's sentence from 10 years to three years, calling the original term "excessive."

She was arrested in 2002 when she returned to the United States for a visit. She told The Sun in an interview from prison last year that she wished her daughter and former son-in-law would remarry and "raise their two boys together."

The case's prosecutors were away from the office yesterday and unavailable for comment, said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office. Prosecutors have said Khalifa played an "active role" in the abduction; she was found guilty of conspiracy to abduct a child.

Now that the grandmother is being released, Shannon said he is relying on legal action he has filed in Egypt to compel authorities there to enforce U.S. court orders and return the boys to Maryland.

"Adam was 5 years old the first time I spoke to him in Egypt and he said, `Why did this happen, when are you coming to get me?'" the father said. "He's not the same boy anymore, but I'm not going to abandon him."

In an interview from Cairo, Nermeen Shannon told The Sun last year that Adam was in an American school in Cairo, and Jason had a private nanny. She said both were "adapting well."

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