A Maryland man allegedly kidnapped his two children and took them to Tunisia in 2011. After Faical Chebbi landed at the Dulles International Airport on Wednesday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested him for international parental kidnapping.
Chebbi allegedly picked the children up for a weekend visitation and never returned them to the mother, who had sole custody. He has dual citizenship in Tunisia and the United States.
International abductions become complicated when a non-custodial parent takes the child to a country, were U.S. parental custody orders are ignored. According the State Department, there are over 1,000 such cases reported in the United States each year.
Chebbi faces a $250,000 fine and maximum penalty of three years in prison if convicted.
The mother, Edeanna Barbirou, said she previously traveled to Tunisia to pick up her daughter and now has custody of her son, Eslam.
A top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin, contacted Tunisian officials asking for assistance in regaining custody of the children. In 2014, Cardin met with former the Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to discuss the case.
“Ms. Barbirou fought tirelessly to bring home both her children and Eslam’s long overdue return finally closes this difficult chapter for their family,” Cardin said in a statement. “Like so many other international abduction cases my office sees, this case dragged on far longer than it should have.”
The United States and 89 other countries have signed a treaty speed up the review process of cross-border child abduction cases. So far, Tunisia has not signed the treaty.