The mother of a West Bank man who invited a 16-year-old American to the Middle East to get married says she is distraught that the teenager has returned home and hopes to bring the couple together.
Sana Jinzawi says she was waiting at the airport in Tel Aviv to pick up Katherine Lester, who met her 20-year-old son Abdullah on the popular MySpace.com Web site.
Lester had boarded a flight to Israel last week after slipping out of her mother’s house in Gilford, Mich. But U.S. authorities intercepted her at a stopover in Amman, Jordan, on Friday, seized her passport and put her on a flight home.
The wedding is off — at least for now.
Sana Jinzawi said by telephone from her West Bank home in Jericho Wednesday that her son was heartbroken and insisted the two are in love.
“She was going to sign a marriage contract as soon as she got here,” the mother said, adding she told Lester 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,” Sana Jinzawi said.
Renee Wood, a lawyer for Lester’s mother, Shawn, said she had not heard of a marriage contract, but “we did hear that she was to marry him.” Telephone messages seeking comment from Lester’s parents were not immediately returned.
Calm in Jericho
Jericho, a dusty backwater of 17,000 people, is a place of relative calm in the West Bank, where Israelis and Palestinians frequently clash.
Abdullah Jinzawi, 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, Mich., on Saturday, he said he met Lester on the Web seven months ago, that he was a wealthy businessman and that he wanted to marry her. He said he sent her the money for the flight.
Repeated attempts to contact Abdullah on his cellular telephone Wednesday failed. The phone was turned off, and no other telephone number was available.
Sana 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,” the mother said.
Fears of FBI involvement
She said her family was taken aback by the attention the case has received, and is afraid the FBI will get involved. And she said the family didn’t want to hurt the girl and had no idea she acted without her parents’ consent.
Sana Jinzawi said five other Jericho residents had brought American girls to Jericho in recent years and that all the couples now live in the U.S.
Authorities are trying to determine if any laws were broken in the Lester case. The age of sexual consent in Michigan is 16, and Katherine Lester turns 17 on June 21.
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 Jinzawi says her son and Lester have been in touch since the teenager returned to Michigan. “Neither of them are giving up on each other,” she said.
Wood, the lawyer, said she believed that Lester and the man had communicated since her return. “I do think that is happening,” she said.