Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Teen with ties to Toledo released from Syrian cell


This 2009 photo shows Hadi Alshammaa, a U.S. citizen living in Syria. His family in Toledo was concerned that Hadi, now 16, has been abducted by government security forces in Damascus, Syria.


A 16-year-old boy with ties to Toledo who was caught up in the Syrian government's crackdown on its people has been released after three weeks of detention and no contact with his family.

The family of Hadi Alshammaa, some of whom live in Toledo, announced late last month that he had been abducted by the Syrian military.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) spoke with Syrian officials, requesting information on the abduction and the boy's release, which was confirmed Monday.

"What we do know now is the family has confirmed that he has been returned to them," said Steve Katich, Miss Kaptur's chief of staff.

"We have been in touch with the [Syrian] Ambassador to the United States, the Charge d'Affaires Zuhair Jabbour for about 10 days, and Congresswoman Kaptur met with Ambassador [Robert] Ford, last week, urging for a resolution, a release, or at least some information."

Miss Kaptur said she made the request to the Syrian Embassy.

"We have been working with their highest official here in the United States," she said. "We had difficulty reaching him and finally he was able to return our phone calls [Monday]."

Miss Kaptur said Mr. Jabbour did not have information on why the boy was detained.

Hadi's brothers, Adnan Alshammaa, a finance student at the University of Toledo, and Hamzah Alshammaa, who studied at UT and now works in Kuwait, started a social media campaign to draw attention to the abduction.

Hadi, a U.S. citizen born in Indiana, lives in the Syrian capital of Damascus with his mother. On the night of Feb. 27, after venturing out to a cell phone store, the boy reportedly did not return home. The family reported Hadi's disappearance to the U.S. Department of State.

Aya Khalil, a family friend living in Toledo, who confirmed Hadi's release, said loved ones were overjoyed.

"They were very excited when they heard the news," Ms. Khalil said. "I thought the worst was going to happen."

Other family members announced the release on a Facebook page that had called for Hadi's safe return.

Bassam Alshammaa at 10:26 a.m. Monday posted: "I just want to let every one know that Allhamdulillah Hadi was released about an hour ago. … He is in a good health. He said he was beaten only on the first day."

The page had 690 members Tuesday.

A later posting said Hadi appeared before a judge who declared that the teen was innocent and should be released.

"He was locked up in a small cell along with 20-30 inmates, with him being the only minor in the group," Mr. Alshammaa wrote.

"He indicated that they took care of him with all the limited resources that they have and the harsh conditions they lived in. They offered him a 'filthy bed-bug infested blanket' and a place to sleep. They rationed their daily food supply and they always gave him a decent share."

The conflict in Syria has left thousands dead and thwarted international peace entreaties.

President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown began last March and, according to the United Nations, more than 8,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprisings began last year.

Tens of thousands more have disappeared or been displaced.

Miss Kaptur said the Syrian government could not endure under its current conditions.

"I think it is important Syria be influenced by the Arab League nations and other nations that have been meeting trying to find a peaceful road forward," she said.

"I think that Syria has to embrace its neighbors more fully and work with them, and I hope that is occurring in private talks that we do not know about."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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