A New York woman who planned to secretly marry the love of her life in Mexico was physically forced by her family to return to the United States against her will so she could marry a man they had chosen for her and threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply, federal prosecutors said.
The woman’s father and one of her brothers have been arrested and each face a charge of conspiracy to kidnap persons in a foreign country, the Justice Department said Thursday. Khaled Abughanem, 50, and Waleed Abughanem, 32, both of Lackawanna, face life in prison.
Upon returning to New York, the woman’s father forced her to withdraw from the University of Buffalo, where she was a student, so she could marry a man in Yemen “or he would bury her in the backyard,” according to prosecutors.
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She traveled to Mexico in September 2021 to elope with her fiance, an American citizen, authorities said. Her father called the police to report her missing and eventually learned where she was. The family went to Mexico and forced her to return to the U.S., prosecutors said.
Khaled Abughane allegedly said “she would be traveling outside the United States whether she liked it or not, or he would bury her in the backyard.” She attempted to flee her home but all the doors were locked. She lost access to the internet and social media and was constantly threatened, the DOJ said.
She was also allegedly told that if she did not go through with the arranged marriage, her finance would be killed.
On Sept. 17, 2021 the fiance called the police to report not having heard from the woman in a week. After being contacted by police, the woman and her family traveled to Sanaa, Yemen where she is being held.
“You are no longer in the West, you are in the Middle East, women like you are killed,” the father allegedly told her.
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The victim said her father paid $500,000 for the arranged marriage and was assaulted when she refused. At the same time, her fiance kept calling the police, which prompted welfare checks, prosecutors said. Authorities were told the woman “is fine and to stop making welfare checks.”
Her family left Yemen in April 2022 but she remained in the country under the supervision of two brothers. Khaled Abughanem and Waleed Abughanem were slated to appear in federal court Friday.