NABLUS, West Bank – The family of a West Bank man whose 16-year-old American girlfriend flew to the Mideast to marry him after they met on the Web is distraught that she has returned home and says they still hope to bring the couple together.
Last week, Katherine Lester slipped out of her mother's house in Gilford, Michigan, and boarded a flight to Israel, where the mother of her prospective groom was waiting to pick her up and take her to Jericho.
But U.S. authorities, who had tracked her down through the popular MySpace.com Web site where she had met 20-year-old Abdullah Jinzawi, intercepted her at an Amman, Jordan, stopover on Friday, seized her passport and forced her to go home.
The wedding is off — at least for now.
Sana Jinzawi, Abdullah's mother, said her son is heartbroken and insisted the two are in love.
"She was going to sign a marriage contract as soon as she got here," she said, adding that she told Katherine to "bring a pink dress for the engagement party and a white dress for the wedding."
"She wanted to convert to Islam and wear the head covering and live with us and adopt our culture," she said.
Jericho, a dusty backwater of 17,000 people, is a place of relative calm in the strife-torn West Bank, where Israelis and Palestinians frequently clash.
Abdullah, who works in his father's business, delivering goods to minimarkets, is no longer giving interviews. But in a phone interview with WNEM-TV in Saginaw, Michigan, on Saturday, he said he met Katherine on the social networking hub seven months ago, that he was a wealthy businessman, and that he wanted to marry her.
Repeated attempts to contact Abdullah on his cellular telephone Wednesday failed. The phone was turned off, and no other telephone number was available.
Mrs. Jinzawi, who holds an Israeli identity card, said she traveled to Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv to greet the would-be bride last week.
"When she didn't arrive it was a sad day for us. All kinds of thoughts went through our heads and we asked the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, and they told us she went back to the U.S. from Jordan," she said.
Sana said her family was taken aback by all the attention the case has received, and is afraid the FBI would become involved. They insist they didn't want to hurt the girl and had no idea she acted without her parents' consent.
Sana said five other Jericho residents had brought American girls to Jericho in recent years and that all of them now live with their wives in the U.S.
Authorities are trying to determine if any laws were broken in the Lester case, because of Katherine's age. The age of sexual consent in Michigan is 16.
MySpace.com is a social networking Web site with more than 72 million members. Its popularity with teenagers has raised concerns with U.S. authorities, and there have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.
Sana says her son and Katherine have been in touch since she returned to Michigan.
"Neither of them are giving up on each other," she said.