Accused of kidnapping his children and hiding from authorities in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, Mohammad Alsaleh said he is using the only means at his disposal to keep control of the situation: his son.
On Oct. 13, after a yearlong ordeal that began when Mohammad fled to Jordan with his and Heidi Sides Alsaleh’s three children, Mohammad took their son from in front of his wife’s apartment there and fled. Neither Heidi, the U.S. State Department nor the Jordanian Family Protection Police have seen Mohammad or 9-year-old Ahmed since.
While Heidi and her supporters — many of whom are from her native area of Hartland and St. Albans — are pushing through a legal process that they hope will require Mohammad to return Ahmed, Mohammad said he remains hopeful that his family can be together again, including him and Heidi. Even after everything they’ve been through, he said, he still loves her.
“I might get angry or upset, but that thing stays in my heart, regardless of how she feels about me,” Mohammad, 41, said during a lengthy interview with the Bangor Daily News on Monday through an Internet chat room. “Bottom line, you can’t force anybody to live with anyone else.”
He said he favors “any solution that will give both of us our natural right to be with the kids.”
Heidi, who is living in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, with her and Mohammad’s two daughters, Manar, 5 and Sarah, 4, said she and her husband had a solution worked out — she lived with him in Jordan for about eight months — but the problems that plagued their marriage for most of 10 years were still there.
“We tried his way, and it didn’t work,” Heidi said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “When I came to Jordan to stay with him in December of 2009, once we moved into our apartment, everything went back to the way it was. When he speaks to other people, it’s my fault, not his fault. Unfortunately, that’s the way he operates.”
Heidi and Mohammad met in the late 1990s over the Internet. Mohammad moved to Maine to marry her, and they lived here for two years until they relocated to Maryland because of Mohammad’s job with Cianbro. Ahmed was born in Skowhegan and Manar and Sarah were born in Maryland.
But the marriage deteriorated, and eventually Heidi and Mohammad were separated and sharing custody of the children. Then on May 24, 2009, Mohammad took the children to Jordan, notifying Heidi by a cell phone text message only after he was already there.
Heidi followed her family to Jordan several months later and eventually agreed to move in with Mohammad and the children. That arrangement lasted until this past September, when Heidi and the children fled to the American Embassy in Amman. They lived in a safe house until Heidi’s parents rented an apartment for them. On Oct. 13, the day Heidi and the children were moving into the apartment, Mohammad and his family members, according to Heidi, seized Ahmed by force and whisked him away. Except for a telephone conversation and a few photos Mohammad sent her of Ahmed’s birthday party on Nov. 14, Heidi said she has not seen or heard from her son since then.
Mohammad said he knows his actions have caused some to vilify him, but he insists his love for his children is the reason.
“I don’t think I can live without my kids, and I know for sure Heidi is the type of person that feels the same way,” said Mohammad, who declined an interview by telephone for reasons he wouldn’t specify. “If we get to share only one thing in life, it is our love of the kids.”
Mohammad attributed their marital troubles to a communication block between them that over time built into a wall of resentment and anger. He said he admitted his failings to her during a conversation a few months ago that he thought was a turning point in their relationship.
“I admitted not helping [out around the house] as much as I should but had decided that needed to change,” said Mohammad. “She is a really caring mother. She would wake up early, get the kids ready for school and take care of everything in the house. I wasn’t helping much because I was really confused … trying to understand how to do the right thing.”
In the end, Heidi said she left their apartment in Jordan because she didn’t see it as a healthy environment for the children.
Jordanian law gives custody of young children to their mother, but the father has the right to visitation if he wants it. That means Heidi can’t leave Jordan with the children, even if she does find Ahmed. She has told the Bangor Daily News that she is pursuing full custody through legal means, but that she will support herself as a physical therapist in Jordan for the long term if that’s what it takes to be with her children.
Asked what it will take to return Ahmed to the rest of his family, Mohammad said, “When we find a resolution that’s good for everybody.”
Mohammad said he is pursuing various legal means to resolve the situation, but what he really wants is another chance to talk to Heidi alone.
“It breaks my heart when I hear Ahmed say he feels sad that he can’t see his sisters,” said Mohammad. “But at the same time we need to rise above all this madness that involves media, lawyers, … police, courts, judges or any other influence that’s pushing things from bad to worse. We need to only think about the kids as a start for a peaceful resolution, no matter what it is. It is a decision that can be made by two persons, not only one.”
Heidi said that regardless of his reasons, Mohammad has only made things more difficult for himself by taking the children to Jordan, and now hiding Ahmed.
“He knew that my children are the world to me,” she said. “He was in his mind probably thinking that I would come here and, being in a Muslim society, everything would be perfect and that we could get together again. But I followed him here because these are my children.”