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Saudis Import Slaves to America By: Daniel Pipes
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 13, 2005


Homaidan Ali Al-Turki, 36, and his wife, Sarah Khonaizan, 35, appear to be a model immigrant couple. Having arrived in the United States in 2000, they live with their four children in an upscale Denver suburb. Al-Turki is a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Colorado, specializing in Arabic intonation and focus prosody. He donates money to the Linguistic Society of America and is CEO of Al-Basheer Publications and Translations, a bookstore specializing in titles about Islam.

Last week, however, the FBI accused the couple of enslaving an Indonesian woman in her early 20s. For four years, reads the indictment, they created “a climate of fear and intimidation through rape and other means.” The slave woman cooked, cleaned, took care of children, and more for little or no pay, fearing that if she did not obey, “she would suffer serious harm.”

The two Saudis face charges of forced labor, aggravated sexual abuse, document servitude, and harboring an alien. If found guilty, they could spend their remaining lives in prison. The government also wants to seize the couple’s Al-Basheer bank account to pay their former slave $92,700 in back wages.

It’s a shocking instance, especially for a graduate student and religious bookstore owner – but not a particularly rare one. Here are other examples of enslavement, all involving Saudi royals or diplomats living in the United States.

  • In 1982, a Miami judge issued a warrant to search Prince Turki Bin Abdul Aziz’s 24th-floor penthouse to determine if he was holding Nadia Lutefi Mustafa, an Egyptian woman, against her will. Turki and his French bodyguards prevented a search from taking place, then won retroactive diplomatic immunity to forestall any legal unpleasantness.
  • In 1988, the Saudi defense attaché in Washington, Col. Abdulrahman S. Al-Banyan, employed a Thai domestic, Mariam Roungprach, until she escaped his house by crawling out a window. She later told how she had been imprisoned there, did not get enough food, and was not paid. Interestingly, her work contract specified that she could not leave the house or make telephone calls without her employer’s permission.
  • In 1991, Prince Saad Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his wife, Princess Noora, lived on two floors of the Ritz-Carlton Houston. Two of their servants, Josephine Alicog of the Philippines and Sriyani Marian Fernando of Sri Lanka, filed a suit against the prince, alleging they were for five months held against their will, “by means of unlawful threats, intimidation and physical force,” they were only partially paid, denied medical treatment, and suffered mental and physical abuse.
  • In March 2005, a wife of Saudi Prince Mohamed Bin Turki Alsaud, Hana Al Jader, 39, was arrested at her home outside of Boston on charges of forced labor, domestic servitude, falsifying records, visa fraud, and harboring aliens. Al Jader stands accused of compelling two Indonesian women to work for her by making them believe “that if they did not perform such labor, they would suffer serious harm.” If convicted, Al Jader faces up to 140 years in jail and $2.5 million in fines.

There are many other similar instances, for example, the Orlando escapades of Saudi princesses Maha al-Sudairi and Buniah al-Saud. Joel Mowbray tells of twelve female domestics “trapped and abused” in the households of Saudi dignitaries or diplomats.

Why is this problem so acute when it comes to affluent Saudis? Four reasons come to mind. Although slavery was abolished in the kingdom in 1962, the practice still flourishes there. Ranking Saudi religious authorities endorse slavery; for example, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan insisted recently that “Slavery is a part of Islam” and whoever wants it abolished he called “an infidel.”

The U.S. State Department knows about the forced servitude in Saudi households and laws exist to combat this scourge but, as Mowbray argues, it “refuses to take measures to combat it.” Finally, Saudis know they can get away with nearly any misbehavior. Their embassy provides funds, letters of support, lawyers, retroactive diplomatic immunity, former U.S. ambassadors as troubleshooters, and even aircraft out of the country; it also keeps pesky witnesses away.

Given the U.S. government’s louche attitude toward the Saudis, slavery in Denver, Miami, Washington, Houston, Boston, and Orlando hardly comes as a surprise. Only when Washington more robustly represents American interests will Saudi behavior improve.


Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.


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