The Orange County Register
June 1, 1992
Algerian re-abduction is latest exploit of OC former Green Beret
Author: Kim Christensen
The Orange County Register
Estimated printed pages: 7
Two masked men burst into Hamid Maidi's bedroom, handcuffed him, grabbed his children, packed them into a rented car and sped off into the North African night.
Five weeks later, Maidi is still in shock. He can't eat. He can't sleep.
He misses his son and daughter, 3 and 6, and he is filled with anger for those who took them away.
"These are the worst days of my life," Maidi, 36, said in a telephone interview from his Algeria home.
More than 6,000 miles away, the Orange County man who
masterminded the abduction at the behest of the children's American mother feels neither sympathy for Maidi nor remorse about breaking Algerian law.
"Not a bit," said Jeff Miller, 46, a former sergeant in the US Army Special Forces. "What we did was a good thing. A very good thing."
Miller, who said he works primarily in international marketing and investigation, was hired by Aimee Maidi, 29, a Minnesota day-care! -school operator who has since divorced Hamid Maidi.
In October, while separated from his wife, the father signed papers promising to return the children to her at the end of a week's visit.
Instead, he took his daughter, Akila, and son, Djelel, to Algeria, vowing to keep them there permanently, she said.
Aimee Maidi reported her husband to police and consulted with the US State Department, missing-children organizations and an international lawyer.
"What it boiled down to is that nobody could do anything about it," she said. "It finally reached the point where the only option we had left was a counterabduction."
Her situation is similar to hundreds of others, according to the US State Department, which lists about 700 active cases of "international parental child abduction."
In most cases, fathers have taken their children to other countries without the mothers' consent. Some are resolved through the Hague Convention, a! treaty signed by the United States and 22 other nations, which return s children to their home countries until custody disputes are settled.
But Algeria, like other Arabic and Third World nations, does not recognize the treaty. And because of religious and cultural customs that treat men as superior, women _ especially women who are not citizens _ have little hope of prevailing in court.
"It's very frustrating for many parents," said Judy Schretter, general counsel to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "They expect the State Department to march in and grab the kids, and the State Department can't do that. They have to go through the appropriate legal channels."
State Department officials confirmed basic details of the Maidi case, but a spokeswoman declined to elaborate.
She said the US government "deplores" such acts of private intervention, which do not violate US laws but are treated as kidnappings in the countries where they occur.
Miller said he and other members of his grou! p realize that they face criminal charges in Algeria, but that there are "higher moral issues" involved in returning children to their mother.
"We have no desire to be criminals, and no desire to perform criminal acts," he said. "Believe me, if we did, we could make a lot more money than we do."
The pre-dawn operation in which Aimee Maidi participated with Miller and five other Americans, mostly former servicemen, capped months of elaborate planning. The totalcost to the family: $120,000-plus.
After several other leads turned into dead ends, she hooked up with Miller through a family friend who knew someone who knew of him.
"It was really a fluke," she said.
Miller and his partner, an Orange County businessman who did not want his name published, flew to Minnesota in December and met with Maidi and her parents. After spending a day with the pair, Aimee Maidi said, the family decided to hire them and her parents agreed to foot the! bill.
"You reach the point where you've got to trust somebod y," she said. "You can't always plug a name into a computer and have it pop up `legitimate' or `not legitimate.' We took the plunge and decided to go for it."
Miller said his military background and civilian work abroad in recent years prepared him well for the job, which he described as his fourth child rescue.
He joined the Army in 1966, hoping for a career in military intelligence.
"They made me a supply clerk," he said, smiling through a thick, salt-and-pepper mustache.
But a year later, Miller said, a sergeant persuaded him to try out for the Special Forces, the soldiers dubbed Green Berets, made famous in song and "touted as some kind of supermen" during the Vietnam War.
One of his assignments during two stints in the Army was to help establish a hostage-rescue school, he said, where he picked up many of the skills he now uses.
In January, Miller and his partner flew to Europe to make preliminary plans for getting t! he Maidi children.
They enlisted the aid of a North African businessman in France, then went to Algeria to see the walled compound owned by Hamid Maidi's family in the mountain village of Lakhdaria in northern Algeria.
After hiring the Algerian as a "surveillance agent," who would track the comings and goings at the family compound, Miller and his partner returned to California. They were joined there by Aimee Maidi, who had lived with Hamid Maidi and his family for 4 1/2 years while teaching school in Algeria.
"We spent a couple of days in a hotel room drawing big charts of the house, room by room," Miller said. "We knew every window, every door. Whether it opened in or out, whether it was wood or metal or glass. We really had the house down."
They devised a plan to break into the compound, then spirit the children out of the country by boat. They arranged for a 120-foot yacht to take them from the northern coast of Algeria to Palma, Maj! orca, and the family paid the captain $50,000.
But the amphib ious plan was scrubbed Feb. 27, as Miller, Aimee Maidi and the others waited in Majorca. The captain balked because of bad weather and the group returned to the United States to sit out the monthlong Islamic celebration of Ramadan. The captain ultimately refused to reschedule the trip, but kept the family's money.
"He started giving me a rama-lama lip jam. Like he was booked solid forever," Miller said. "In hindsight, I don't think he ever planned to go at all. I think it was all a con.
"The family was out the 50 grand, and that gave me the incentive to get the kids back, no matter what. If it meant driving 300 miles over bad road, I decided we'll drive 300 miles over bad road."
An alternate overland plan was devised and in April, the group returned to Algeria, entering the country legally from Tunisia and posing as a group of archeologists looking for Carthaginian antiquities.
They carried tear gas, two-way radios and stun guns, but no l! ethal weapons, Miller said.
On April 17, after verifying that the children were inside the compound, Miller and two of the others scaled the fence. Aimee Maidi waited outside in a rented car.
She was included in the plan for several reasons, Miller said. If they got caught, they could argue that no kidnap occurred because the children were hers.
"To be pulled out of the house in the custody of strangers, and to perhaps be in the custody of stangers for hours or days, is horrible for little children like that," he said. "Whereas to be pulled out of the house and immediately put into the custody of their mother, it tremendously mitigates the traumatic experience on the children."
A barking dog drew attention to her car, and neighbors came out to investigate, even as members of the group were breaking in to the bedroom.
"Not only did they kidnap the children, but tried to kill (the father) at the same time," said Hamid Maidi's broth! er, Rashid. "They come in with ski masks and the children are so terri fied they cannot even scream. Their father was almost murdered in front of their own eyes. ... They knocked him down with a big punch on his eye."
Miller said that Hamid Maidi was "rolled around on the floor and scuffed up a little bit, maybe, but he wasn't hurt."
Moments later, Miller's cohorts handed the children over the fence and put them into the car with their mother, then all raced out of the village.
The escape was followed by a 17-hour trek on rough roads to Algerian's northeastern border.
The next day, at staggered intervals, members of the group managed to evade police and cross into Tunisia. From there they flew to Europe, then on to the United States.
"It was wonderful to see them," Aimee Maidi said. "But I didn't feel safe until we were home. I was terrified that any second they could be taken away from me."
Her children are happy to be back in Minnesota, Aimee Maidi said. They mention their father occasion! ally, but do not want to go back to him, she said.
Hamid Maidi said he has been betrayed. He said Aimee had promised to live in Algeria and should never have taken his children to the United States in the first place.
He said he followed her and the children when she returned to her native Minnesota in 1989 because he loved them all.
He hopes one day to get his children back, he said, but he will do it through the courts.
"I want to have my kids back, but I will never let a criminal man touch my kids," he said. "They should be ashamed of what they did."
Miller said Hamid Maidi is the one who should be ashamed, and that if he is suffering it is his own fault.
"He ruined his own life," Miller said. "He had no right to take them away from their mother."
Miller said he is considering several other child-rescue cases.
"Everybody in the world thinks they can get away with something against Americans," he said! .
"Americans are like everybody's open target and I'm tired o f it. ... If the contribution I can make is to get a 3-, 4-, 5- or 7-year-old back from them, then that's what I'll do."
Education: Graduate, Magnolia High School, Anaheim. Completed one year at Orange Coast College.
Military: Enlisted in US Army in 1966 for four years. Re-enlisted in early 1970s and served until 1982. Member of Special Forces; co-founder of hostage-rescue school.
Civilian work history: After leaving the service, Miller headed a civilian company that trained police Special Weapons and Tactics teams and others to deal with hostage situations.
"The program went well and was successful," said Marta Perez, training manager for the International Association of Police Chiefs, one of the organizations that hired Miller's company.
He and his partners sold the company in the mid-1980s, and Miller later went to work for a company that marketed electronic intelligence-gathering devices su! ch as miniature radio transmitters and cameras.
Since 1987, he and a partner have been involved in international marketing and investigation. They contract with aerospace companies and other international businesses to gather information about their clients' competitors.
He said he has been involved in several cases in which children were returned to parents in the United States after being taken without parents' consent to other countries.
Quotation: "The stories (of international child abduction) are much more similar than different. A couple gets divorced, the US courts give custody of the children to the mother and visitation rights to the father. And the father during one of his visits grabs the kids and runs off."
In April, Jeff Miller and a team including their mother took two youngsters from Algeria by stealth. (Harris) Jeff Miller when he was a Green Beret. Now he returns children to US parents. (Lockwood)
Craig Lockwood; Jebb HarrisBLACK & WHITE PHOTO
Copyright 1992 The Orange County Register
Record Number: OCR410178
The Orange County Register