NEW YORK – The wealthy Egyptian grandmother accused of kidnapping her two grandsons from their U.S. home to Cairo was found guilty of abduction and related felonies Tuesday and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Afaf Nassar Khalifa, 60, wept and told one of her daughters she loved her before being led away in handcuffs at the Circuit Court in Annapolis, Md.
Associate Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis convicted Khalifa of being an accessory to the abduction of a child, harboring a child outside the U.S. and related charges. In addition to slapping her with the maximum jail sentence of 10 years, she also ordered the grandmother to pay the maximum in fines: $15,000.
But the children, 5-year-old Adam Shannon and 2-year-old Jason, remain in Egypt. And so far, the U.S. government has not been able to bring them back to their father.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the defendant assisted her daughter in planning the abduction and harboring the children out of the country," the judge wrote in her decision.
She added that she’d consider modifying the stiff sentence if Adam and Jason were returned to their Maryland father, Michael Shannon — who has had full custody of them since his divorce from their mother, Nermeen Shannon, in 2001.
Nermeen Shannon lost custody because of child abuse charges and problems with alcohol, according to court documents.
Michael Shannon — who has been caught up in a 17-month battle to get his sons back home — was overjoyed at the verdict.
"I was holding Adam and Jason's picture in my left hand," said Shannon, 42. "We all broke into tears. I’m very optimistic."
Shannon said Tuesday’s verdict wasn’t just a personal victory, but one for the 10,000 other young abduction victims living overseas.
"It's not just for me," said Shannon. "It sends a message to everyone that it's not OK to take American children and just steal them out of the country."
International kidnappings of American children by a parent have become a significant problem, with 10,000 confirmed cases and about 1,000 disappearing a year. While the U.S. government returns about 90 percent of kidnapped non-American children to their rightful countries, it manages to get back less than 20 percent of its own abducted youngsters.
Some in Congress, like Texas Democrat Rep. Nick Lampson, have led the fight to change that. But it's an uphill battle.
The problem lies in the fact that only 60 countries have signed the Hague Convention international abduction treaty designed to prevent a child's wrongful kidnapping. No Middle Eastern nations, Egypt included, have signed the treaty.
Shannon's case is unusual because it's a father, not a mother, who has been victimized.
His boys disappeared in August 2001 during a court-approved, unsupervised visit with their mother and grandmother. The women asked Shannon's permission to take the boys to New York for what was supposed to be just a weekend visiting with relatives. He agreed — as long as the children were returned promptly Sunday evening.
Instead, Khalifa and Nermeen Shannon cleared out Mrs. Shannon's apartment with a moving van, bid some neighbors good-bye and flew under assumed names to Cairo with the boys in tow — planning never to return them to their father.
Shannon hasn't seen his sons since.
"We're very pleased with the verdict, but the sad thing about this case is that the children remain in Egypt in violation of a number of court orders," said the prosecutor, assistant state's attorney Laura Kiessling. "We hope they're returned."
Kiessling said the defense indicated it intended to file an appeal.
Defense attorney William C. Brennan declined to take Fox News' calls seeking comment.
During the trial, Brennan tried to cast doubt on Mr. Shannon's credibility, unsuccessfully arguing that he'd approved sending the boys on a short trip to Egypt to get their multimillion-dollar inheritance from their grandfather so that he could come away with $2 million.
The defense claimed that Shannon's fight to get his sons back was out of vengeance for being "hoodwinked."
But the father's frantic calls to police and the federal government immediately after he discovered his boys were missing, combined with the exhaustive amount of evidence in the case, told another story.
"All his statements as to the kidnapping of the boys were corroborated," Davis-Loomis said in her decision. "The defendant's story was not."