Abdalla Touny’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
The 44-year-old American bank officer flew halfway around the globe to arrive in Kuwait City on Aug. 2, just one hour before Iraqi troops invaded the tiny desert emirate, trapping him in the midst of an international crisis.
With the borders closed and troops moving through the countryside, Touny hid in the basement of the family home near Kuwait city and from there, he spoke only once with his wife, Abla, who was in the United States, wrapping up the family vacation just as he became trapped.
She did not hear from him again for three weeks. “Oh God, you have no idea what it was like,” she said.
On Thursday night, as TWA Flight 861, landed at Los Angeles International Airport, Abla Touny waited nervously for her husband, as did their children, who carried yellow and red flowers and a yellow cardboard sign with hearts on it, and the legend: “Welcome home dad.”
For three weeks “we kept calling the State Department and they kept telling us everything was fine. We asked them to send a message (to Touny) but there was no answer.” Abdalla Touny is one of the small number of foreigners who have managed to escape Kuwait across the desert. About 12,000 Westerners are believed to be still held in Iraq and Kuwait, including about 2,900 Americans.
Abla Touny said her husband left their home and headed across the desert by car. His first try was for the Saudi Arabian border, but he was turned back there by Iraqi soldiers, his wife said. When he reached Jordan, he was broke and exhausted, and had ditched his American passport, knowing the Iraqis were looking for Americans.
The Egyptian-born Tounys, naturalized U.S. citizens, had lived in Kuwait for two years. Abdalla worked as an officer for the Bank of Kuwait; his wife was a clinical chemist at the University of Kuwait.
The couple and their two children, Dinah, 13, and Sharif, 18, came here on June 3 for a summer vacation. They expected go back to Kuwait and spend at least another year there before returning to their permanent home in Ontario.
Abdalla decided to return to Kuwait first. His wife and daughter were to follow two weeks later. Sharif would stay on as a student at UC Riverside.
The day after the invasion, Touny was still unaware that Iraqi forces had occupied the country until his wife called him. Abdalla then called the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, where officials suggested he “just stay put” at his villa, his wife said.
He kept up phone contact with the embassy, but his wife did not hear from him again until six days ago, and was startled to hear he had escaped.
Two days later, Abdalla called again from Cairo; he said he was on his way home.