Colin Bower said he still remembers the shock and horror he felt during a phone call he received in August of 2009. A male caller informed him that his children had been taken to Egypt, Bower says, and that if he made any attempts to contact authorities, he would never see them again.
He was supposed to pick up his two boys, Noor and Ramsay, 9 and 7 at the time, from a scheduled visit in Boston with their mother, Mirvat El Nady, Bower says. A U.S. judge had granted him sole legal custody after the couple's divorce in 2008, and El Nady, a British and Egyptian citizen, had limited visitation. Those restrictions, Bower says, along with findings in the divorce proceedings raising doubts about her truthfulness, angered El Nady and prompted the kidnapping.
Bower, a financial consultant from Boston, said he later learned that El Nady had taken the children to John F. Kennedy airport in New York, purchased one-way tickets to Cairo with cash, and allegedly used Egyptian passports with false identities to get the boys past security and onto an EgyptAir flight.
Bower has sued the airline, alleging they failed to pick up on serious red flags: the boys' surnames did not match their mother's and the boys' passports had no U.S. entry visas. Barry Pollack, who is representing Bower in the case, says EgyptAir should have safeguards in place for potential abduction cases.
"Airlines have every right to require the parents to show dual parental consent forms to prove that the adult has the right to take that child overseas," Pollack told ABC News.
EgyptAir declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit. Just last month, lawyers for the airline filed a motion asking that the suit be dismissed. Regarding parental consent forms, their motion argues that EgyptAir is only required to review passports and that "airlines simply do not have the manpower required to track down and contact non-traveling parents to discuss their children's travel."
The motion for dismissal also cited a recent report on international child abductions by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report, which says the annual number of cases of abductions reported has tripled since 2000, suggests that airlines "do not have the authority to verify or enforce court and custody orders in an effort to prevent international parental child abductions."
Instead, the report states, that responsibility belongs to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Bower says that's letting airlines off the hook.
"The GAO report clearly represents the interests of the airlines, not the safety of the passengers or their children," Bower said. "This should absolutely terrify every parent."
In response to an email from ABC News, the GAO said, "The report does not state that airlines have no responsibility to check identifications, nor was it intended to suggest that airlines are prohibited from requesting verified or certified copies of custody orders in order to prevent child abductions. …The report makes a general statement which was intended to reflect the distinction between the role and authority of the courts, law enforcement officials, federal agencies, and private sector entities such as the airlines."
But Bower's biggest concern right now is his children's well-being and their safe return. He has been working with officials and organizations on both the U.S. and Egyptian side, but with the recent political uprisings and instability, finding the right authorities to enforce even a simple visit, let alone negotiating the return of the boys, has been a challenge.
Bower told ABC News he has made 12 visits to Egypt, but has only seen his children three times in the past two years: the last time being more than a year ago. Most visits, he says, were cancelled by El Nady, but the ones he has attended were awkward at best. Bower said the boys seemed, "fearful that what they said and did would have repercussions, and therefore acted unnaturally … and it seemed to make them as unhappy as it made me."
Repeated attempts by ABC News to contact El Nady through her lawyer in Egypt were not answered.
Bower has recruited heavy hitters to help in his fight, including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
According the Kerry's office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also been briefed on the case and even discussed the Bower boys in a meeting with Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarak. And yet, as recently as three weeks ago, despite Kerry's presence in Cairo and the efforts of the U.S. Consul General, Bower says El Nady denied him yet another scheduled visit to see his sons.
Unlike Brazil, where David Goldman fought and succeeded in being reunited with his son on Christmas Eve 2009, Egypt is not a party to the Hague Convention and has no arrangements with the United States in dealing with parental abduction cases. Bower says he hopes that along with a new government, Egypt will recognize the importance of having treaties in place that will prevent other children from having to endure what his two boys have.
Still, Bower remains confident he will see his boys on U.S. soil again one day and to return to the basketball court where they used to play. For now, he says, this past holiday, like so many others, had little joy.
"I wake up every day, and stay awake every night, thinking of ways to help them. Coping with this reality and their loss gets harder, not easier, with time," Bower said. "The void created by their absence, which I physically feel every day, is quite simply life-altering."