WASHINGTON – Two American teenage boys unable to leave the radical madrassa where they've been studying for the past four years in Karachi, Pakistan, should be released in the next week, a Texas congressman told FOX News on Tuesday.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, along with Democratic Reps. Gene Green and Henry Cuellar, also of Texas, called on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to help get the boys released from the school.
"That is our hope, if the madrassas will let them go. The passports have been tendered over to the government at this time, and it's a question of the madrassas releasing these two American children and letting them come home," McCaul said.
The boys, identified as Noor Elahi Khan, 17, and Mahboob Elahi Khan, 16, are from the Atlanta area; their parents are Pakistani.
Noor and Mahboob were born in the U.S. and lived there until being sent to Karachi several years ago by their father.
A family member said that the boys were sent to Pakistan to learn to memorize the Koran, which the family believed would enable the entire clan to gain entry to heaven. A congressional source told FOX News that the family has decided that it wants the boys back, but their father is very reticent to speak because he is afraid it will reflect negatively on Islam and would be viewed dimly, a situation that the family wants to avoid because the boys are still in Pakistan.
The story of the three boys became known after a documentary filmmaker went to the madrassa and filmed the boys' alleged radicalization. The filmmaker went to McCaul to tell him his concerns about the boys.
The three congressmen flew to Pakistan last week to discuss military affairs with Pakistani officials. On their way to meet with Musharraf, McCaul told the others about the American boys who were studying at a madrassa, or Islamic religious school, called the Jamia Binoria Institute. Green and Cuellar were unaware of the teens' plight.
In their July 4 meeting with Musharraf, the Pakistani president assured McCaul that the teens would be let go, as did the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, saying they could be sent home as early as this week.
Musharraf told the congressional delegation that he has been trying to close this particular madrassa, according to Green.
"There's been a concern about madrassas who teach people how to hate America," said the congressman.
"The madrassas is holding these children in there against their will," said McCaul. "But I know President Musharraf and he has a policy to exclude all foreigners from the madrassas including Americans. Obviously, this policy is not being effectuated."
Within hours of the lawmakers' meeting with Musharraf, Pakistan's new civilian government announced that it would continue with his madrassas' reform policy, which includes expulsion of foreign students, registration with the federal government, control of funding and standardization of the curriculum, according a McCaul press release on his negotiations.
McCaul told FOX News that Pakistan has 20,000 madrassas, and he knows of at least 80 Americans studying in them.
Green said it isn't uncommon for lawmakers to get involved in "domestic disputes" between family members in different countries, though in many of those cases, one parent is in the United States and the other is in Mexico. The fact that this situation deals with parents from Pakistan "makes it a little more complicated," said Green.
"Sharia law is a little different," he said. "It may give preference to the father."
A Justice Department source told FOX News that Pakistan has revoked the teens' visas, and officials there say they want to send the boys back to the United States.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.