JEDDAH – Saoud Aal Shaye’ Al-Qahtani waits for a telephone call, a knock at the door, a sign, anything to give him hope that he will one day see his 10-year-old son Yousef again after he was taken by his mother to Yemen to join up with members of Al-Qaeda.
Al-Qahtani, speaking to Okaz newspaper, told of how he left his first wife and sought a new spouse of a more religious persuasion, and so contracted marriage in 2000 with Umm Yousef, whom he believed to be “moderate in her beliefs.”
“I later found out that she had been brought up in a family several of whom held to the ‘takfeeri’ school of thought, and that three of her brothers had been arrested by the security services,” Al-Qahtani said.
“We remained together for three years, despite the fact that I felt she showed in some ways signs of disturbances, and we had a son, Yousef, after a year of marriage. But in the end I brought back my first wife, and when I was transferred to work in Al-Kharj we all moved there together.”
Six months later, however, Al-Qahtani’s second wife left with Yousef and returned to live with her family. “I decided to leave her alone for a short while before trying to get them to return, but when that proved useless I divorced her, and she took custody of Yousef, and I only saw him during the holidays.”
In 2003, Al-Qahtani was to learn that the mother of his son had remarried to a man called Abdul Rahman Al-Ghamdi. Her new husband asked that Yousef remain with his mother, and Al-Qahtani reluctantly agreed, only seeing his son “from time to time” and providing him with pocket money. He was, however, satisfied that his Yousef was receiving a good upbringing.
“I felt that Abdul Rahman treated Yousef as a son of his own,” Al-Qahtani said.
One day in 2004, however, Al-Qahtani attempted to call Abdul Rahman, but found his telephone switched off.
“I tried repeatedly, and was rather surprised, as it wasn’t like him to switch off his phone. After several days failing in my attempts to contact him, I decided to go to their house in Riyadh,” Al-Qahtani said.
When he arrived at the house, Al-Qahtani was taken aback to find the premises overrun with security service officials.
“[Abdul Rahman] had been killed in a confrontation with security forces in Al-Huda on the Taif to Makkah road.”
Umm Yousef then took Yousef to live with her family and Al-Qahtani went back to work in Abha, and the situation remained unchanged until a group of Guantanamo inmates were released, among them Umm Yousef’s younger brother Yousef and his friend Saeed Al-Shehri. “I was surprised to find out that Umm Yousef had married Saeed Al-Shehri despite opposition from her father, but it was all instigated by her brother Yousef,” Al-Qahtani said. “My son, Yousef, was now approaching ten years of age and doing very well at school and being looked after by his mother and grandmother.”
Early 2009, however, Al-Qahtani was informed that his ex-wife’s new husband Saeed Al-Shehri, had disappeared and was thought to have gone to Yemen. “I was taken aback, but it didn’t occur to me that it would signify Umm Yousef going to Yemen as well, especially with her two children.”
In May, Al-Qahtani received a telephone call telling him that his son had failed to appear at school for five consecutive days.
“I presumed at first that it was because of the huge sandstorm that was affecting Riyadh at the time, but later I called Yousef’s grandmother and she told me her daughter and Yousef had gone missing from their home in Al-Naseem. They had checked all the hospitals and everywhere, but with no luck.”
After waiting several days for more information, Al-Qahtani was finally struck with the news that would “turn my life upside down”, when he was informed that Umm Yousef – who now went by the alias Umm Hajir Al-Azdi – had fled with her brother Yousef to Yemen to meet up with her husband, and had taken Yousef and her daughter by Abdul Rahman, Wasayef, with her.
“Since that day I’ve hardly been able to take my mind off it,” Al-Qahtani said. “I don’t know where my son is sleeping, what he’s eating, or where he’s living. What have those children done to be living in mountains and caves?”
Since Umm Yousef’s disappearance with his son, Al-Qahtani has had no news of their whereabouts, but related developments have taken place in the repatriation by Yemen to the Kingdom of Al-Qaeda operatives Abu Al-Hareth Muhammad Al-Oufi and Ahmed Owaidan Al-Harbi in February.
In June, the family of Abdulillah Al-Shehri, who at 17 years of age is the youngest name on the list of militants wanted by the Kingdom, received a telephone call in which he said he was being trained by Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Abdulillah had previously been studying at secondary school while living with his family in the capital . He was reportedly recruited to Al-Qaeda in Yemen by Yousef Al-Shehri.
None of which provides much comfort to Saoud Al-Qahtani. “I long for the day when I see my son return safe and sound, and the whole family pleads to Allah night and day to save Yousef from those extremists and return Umm Yousef to her senses and give up the deviant thought which has broken up a whole family and ruined the lives of children in their best years,” he said. – Okaz/SG