Maha el-Samnah

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Maha el-Samnah
Maha, with her younger daughter in her arms.
Maha el-Samnah, with her youngest daughter in her arms.
Born 1957 (age 60–61)
Residence Toronto, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Spouse(s) Ahmed Khadr
Children 7

Maha el-Samnah (born 1957) is a Palestinian-Canadian woman who is a member of the Khadr family. She is the widow of Ahmed Khadr, and the mother of Abdullah, Abdurahman and Omar Khadr.[1]

She moved to Toronto, Canada in 1977. It was there that she met and married Ahmed Khadr, an Egyptian immigrant in 1979. Their children were born there. In the 1980s, together with her husband and first three children, she moved to Afghanistan, during the Soviet Occupation. In 1995 El-samnah and her husband founded a Canadian charity with a mandate to provide aid in war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Agencies.

After her husband was arrested in Pakistan and held without charge, El-Samnah was covered by Canadian news pleading with then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on camera during a visit to Pakistan, to raise her husband's case with Pakistani authorities.[2]

Early life[edit]

As a teenager, Samnah moved to Saudi Arabia with her parents Mohammad and Fatmah. The family moved to Canada on August 1, 1974 when she was 17, and her parents opened a bakery.[3][4] She attended T. L. Kennedy Secondary School in Mississauga, and hoped to become a doctor.[4][4]

Graduating in 1977, Samnah volunteered as a camp counsellor at Camp Al-Mu-Mee-Neen near Perth, Ontario. There she met Ahmed Khadr, a friend of the camp founder, a University of Ottawa student who had come to Canada from Egypt two years earlier.[4] The camp's director later described their meeting as "love at first sight".[4]

They married in November, at Jami Mosque in Toronto.[4] In May 1978, the couple moved to Ottawa so that Ahmed could finish his studies. In 1979, Maha gave birth to Zaynab.

Move to Afghanistan[edit]

Maha in Toronto with her son Omar.
In 1987, Ahmed convinced Maha to let her parents take care of their sickly son Ibrahim in Scarborough, claiming that she could help a hundred Afghan children in Peshawar by sending one of their children back to Scarborough Hospital for care.[4].

In January 1988, Maha returned to Toronto with Omar to look after Ibrahim so her parents could visit relatives in the Middle East. He became sick, and was rushed to Centenary Hospital and admitted to the ICU. Brain death was declared the following morning, and Maha consented to having him removed from life support.

1996 Appeal to Jean Chrétien[edit]

In 1995 Pakistani security officials apprehended Maha's husband Ahmed.[5] Their daughter Zaynab's fiancé Abdullah was suspected to have connections with a group which may have played a role in an embassy bombing in Egypt. Ahmed spent months in extrajudicial detention and claims surfaced that he was being tortured. [6] [5][7] When Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made a diplomatic visit to Pakistan, Maha el-Samnah made numerous appeals to raise the issue of her husband's extrajudicial detention. Chrétien agreed to meet Maha el-Samnah and her children, in front of elements of the Canadian Press Corps. She appealed to Chrétien to raise her husband's situation with Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The incident was broadcast on Canadian television. Pakistani officials subsequently released Ahmed, citing lack of evidence. [8]

Escape from Afghanistan[edit]

The family fled Kabul the day before its fall to the Northern Alliance, and made a temporary home in the Logar orphanage the night of November 10. Jan McGirk (2004-03-27). "The lonely world of al-Qaeda's wives". London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-04-20. When Allied bombs began to rain down on Afghanistan in October 2001, the Arab women in Kabul packed up in haste. Maha and Zaynab escaped from the capital in a convoy to Gardez, in south-eastern Afghanistan, along with Maha's other daughter, Miriam, her granddaughter, Safia, and her youngest son, Abdul Karim. They rode along with the wife and two children of Zawahiri, but lagged behind.  </ref> In 2003, following the capture of Omar and the departure of Ahmed with Abdulkareem, Samnah took her daughter and granddaughter to a house in Birmal, Pakistan for two days. Their hosts grew wary of American jets overhead, and they moved further into the mountains of Waziristan.[9] Her husband was killed in 2003 in a drone attack near the Afghanistan border while with al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel.

Return to Canada[edit]

Samnah flew back to Canada with Abdulkareem on April 9, 2004, arriving to a throng of reporters and government agents at Pearson Airport.[10][11][12] Samnah and her oldest daughter Zaynab are both on passport "control" lists, meaning they will no longer be issued Canadian passports due to the frequency with which they reported losing their passports since 1999.[13]

In 2004, Samnah appeared in a documentary entitled Son of al Qaeda. In the documentary she was quoted as stating:

"I like my son to be brave...I would like my son to be trained to protect himself, to protect his home, to protect his neighbor, to see a young girl innocent, being raped or attacked, to really fight to defend it. I would really love to do that, and I would love my son to grow with this mentality...[a]nd you would you like me to raise my child in Canada and by the time he's 12 or 13 he'll be on drugs or having some homosexual relation or this and that? Is it better? For me, no. I would rather have my son as a strong man who knows right and wrong and stands for it, even if it's against his parents."[14]

[1][15] The CTV News reported on April 12, 2004, that her critics had initiated a petition to have Maha and her son Abdulkareem stripped of Canadian citizenship and deported.[16] The petition requested that Abdulkareem be stripped of Canadian citizenship; like all his siblings except for Abdurahman, he was born in Canada. In December 2005, Maha's eldest son Abdullah Khadr was repatriated to Canada after a year of clandestine detention in Pakistan.[17] He was arrested by the RCMP, in front of his mother, at a McDonald's restaurant in Toronto as a result of an extradition request by the United States. Maha pleaded with the Canadian public and government for sympathy and for the remaining members of her family to be reunited.

In 2007 Michelle Shephard, author of Guantanamo's Child, reported Maha's comments on the first telephone call her son Omar was allowed to make from Guantanamo.[18]

In 2008, Maha was interviewed by the Canadian Press, following the broadcast of controversial tapes made when Canadian security officials first interrogated her son Omar in Guantanamo. She pleaded with the Canadian public and government for Omar Khadr's repatriation. [19][20] The tapes show Omar weeping for his mother when the interrogators left the room. She was later interviewed for You Don't Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo, a documentary based on the interrogation tapes.[21]

In numerous interviews, Maha was widely quoted pleading for her son Omar's release.[22] When in 2012, Omar Khadr was repatriated to Canada and transferred to a Canadian detention facility in Kingston Ontario, Maha was quoted by the Canadian press as stating that she was happy that he had returned, but unhappy at his conviction as a "war criminal". [23]


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  1. ^ a b "Khadr family sketches". Metro. 2008-07-16. Archived from the original on 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  2. ^ "The Khadr family: A timeline". National Post. 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  3. ^ Levy, Harold. Toronto Star, "Metro kin 'frantic' over Pakistan captive", December 17, 1995
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Shephard, Michelle, "Guantanamo's Child", 2008.
  5. ^ a b Rosemary Spiers (1996-01-05). "Bomb suspect seeks PM's aid to free him from Pakistanis Canadian held without charge in embassy blast". Toronto Star. p. A9. Retrieved 2011-04-19. Khadr and his wife Maha Elsannah have been appealing to the media, and to the staff of the Prime Minister, who is passing through Pakistan's capital on a trade mission. Officials said last night Chrétien will talk to Elsannah tomorrow morning, with the aim of ensuring her husband is getting due process from Pakistani authorities. 
  6. ^ "Visit to Pakistan rocky so far: PM pressing for Canadian's release, end to child labor". Hamilton Spectator. 1996-01-15. p. A3. Retrieved 2011-04-19. Police have identified a number of apparent links between him and militants believed responsible for the bombing. Among them is a man believed linked to a militant Egyptian group based in Sudan who was living at Mr. [Ahmed Saeed Khadr]'s home in Peshawar. He was engaged to Mr. Khadr's 16-year-old daughter, Zaynab, but has not been seen since Mr. Khadr was detained. 
  7. ^ "Canadian aid worker back to jail in Pakistan". Kitchener-Waterloo Record. 1996-01-31. p. F6. Retrieved 2011-04-19. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asked Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto about Khadr during an Asian trade mission this month. Bhutto assured Chrétien that Khadr will be dealt with according to Pakistani law and Chrétien said he accepted her guarantees. 
  8. ^ Craig Kielburger (2010-10-17). "Kielburger: Omar Khadr, Jean Chrétien and me". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2011-04-20. Mrs. Khadr was pleading the case of her husband. Ahmed Said Khadr was imprisoned in Pakistan for his role in a car bombing at the Egyptian Embassy that had killed 17 people. She claimed he was wrongly accused and was being tortured. I felt sympathy looking into the faces of her worried children. 
  9. ^ McGirk, Jan. The Independent, The lonely world of al-Qaeda's wives, April 4
  10. ^ Yahoo news, "Two members of family that has been linked to al-Qaida return to Canada", April 9, 2004
  11. ^ CBC, "Khadr mother, brother arrive in Canada", April 9, 2004
  12. ^ "Khadr mother, brother arrive in Canada". CBC News. 2004-04-09. Retrieved 2011-04-20. They have been trying for months to get Canadian travel documents so they could return to Canada. Ottawa has been reluctant to grant their requests because the Khadr family has lost several passports. 
  13. ^ Shephard, Michelle and Tonda MacCharles. Toronto Star, "Shadow of CSIS will follow Khadr", December 3, 2003
  14. ^ "Son of Al Qaeda" PBS documentary on Abdurahman Khadr
  15. ^ Shephard, Michelle, The Guardian, "This week, a 16-year old boy was seen crying for his mother", July 19, 2008
  16. ^ ""Deport the Khadr Family", Petition Goes Online". CTV News. 2004-04-12. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  17. ^ "'Have sympathy for us,' mother asks". National Post. 2006-01-11. Retrieved 2010-10-.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  18. ^ Michelle Shephard (2007-03-08). "Khadr to boycott trial, family says". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2011-04-20. Maha Elsamnah said yesterday she was surprised how mature her son sounded during the 50-minute phone call on Tuesday. She laughed at the Saudi dialect he has acquired when speaking Arabic. 
  19. ^ Colin Perkel (2008-07-15). "‘I don't know if he hears me crying': mother". Toronto: Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  20. ^ "Mother of Omar Khadr felt powerless watching video". CTV News. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2011-04-20. The mother of Omar Khadr could only sit helplessly and watch Tuesday as her "tiny boy," accused in the death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, cried out to her in a 2003 recording of a marathon Guantanamo Bay interrogation—her first glimpse of him in more than six years. 
  21. ^ "Kinosmith Presents You Don’t Like The Truth" (PDF). Le Festival du Nouveau Cinéma. 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2011-04-20. Maha Elsamnah and Zaynab Khadr, Omar’s mother and oldest sister are also interviewed for the film. 
  22. ^ Michael den Tandt (2009). "Omar Khadr should return to face Canadian justice;". Chatham Daily News. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  23. ^ Andrew Livingstone (2012-10-01). "Omar Khadr’s mother Maha Elsamnah both ‘happy and sad’ after son returns to Canada from Guantanamo Bay". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2012-12-01.