Afghan Couple Accuses US Marine of Abducting Their Child Via ‘Conspiracy, Fraud’ – NBC Los Angeles


The younger Afghan couple raced to the airport in Kabul, clutching their child lady shut amid the chaotic withdrawal of American troops final yr.

The infant had been rescued two years earlier from the rubble of a U.S. Particular Forces raid that killed her dad and mom and 5 siblings. After months in a U.S. navy hospital, she had gone to reside together with her cousin and his spouse, this newlywed couple. Now, the household was sure for the US for additional medical therapy, with the help of U.S. Marine Corps legal professional Joshua Mast.

When the exhausted Afghans arrived on the airport in Washington, D.C., in late August 2021, Mast pulled them out of the worldwide arrivals line and led them to an inspecting officer, in line with a lawsuit they filed final month. They had been stunned when Mast offered an Afghan passport for the kid, the couple stated. However it was the final title printed on the doc that stopped them chilly: Mast.

They didn’t comprehend it, however they might quickly lose their child.

It is a story about how one U.S. Marine turned fiercely decided to deliver house an Afghan conflict orphan, and praised it as an act of Christian religion to avoid wasting her. Letters, emails and paperwork submitted in federal filings present that he used his standing within the U.S. Armed Forces, appealed to high-ranking Trump administration officers and turned to small-town courts to undertake the newborn, unbeknownst to the Afghan couple elevating her 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) away.

The little lady, now 3 ½ years outdated, is on the heart of a high-stakes tangle of at the least 4 courtroom instances. The Afghan couple, determined to get her again, has sued Mast and his spouse, Stephanie Mast. However the Masts insist they’re her authorized dad and mom and “acted admirably” to guard her. They’ve requested a federal decide to dismiss the lawsuit.

The ordeal has drawn within the U.S. departments of Protection, Justice and State, which have argued that the try to spirit away a citizen of one other nation might considerably hurt navy and international relations. It has additionally meant {that a} little one who survived a violent raid, was hospitalized for months and escaped the autumn of Afghanistan has needed to break up her quick life between two households, each of which now declare her.

5 days after the Afghans arrived within the U.S., they are saying Mast — custody papers in hand — took her away.

The Afghan lady collapsed onto the ground and pleaded with the Marine to present her child again. Her husband stated Mast had known as him “brother” for months; so he begged him to behave like one, with compassion. As a substitute, the Afghan household claims in courtroom papers, Mast shoved the person and stomped his foot.

That was greater than a yr in the past. The Afghan couple hasn’t seen her since.

“After they took her, our tears by no means cease,” the lady instructed The Related Press. “Proper now, we’re simply useless our bodies. Our hearts are damaged. We now have no plans for a future with out her. Meals has no style and sleep provides us no relaxation.”


The story of the newborn unfolds in a whole lot of pages of authorized filings and paperwork obtained below the Freedom of Data Act, in addition to interviews with these concerned, pieced collectively in an AP investigation.

In a federal lawsuit filed in September, the Afghan household accuses the Masts of false imprisonment, conspiracy, fraud and assault. The household has requested the courtroom to defend their identification out of issues for his or her family again in Afghanistan, and so they communicated with the AP on the situation of remaining nameless.

The Masts name the Afghan household’s claims “outrageous, unmerited assaults” on their integrity. They argue in courtroom filings that they’ve labored “to guard the kid from bodily, psychological or emotional hurt.” They are saying the Afghan couple are “not her lawful dad and mom,” and Mast’s legal professional solid doubt on whether or not the Afghans had been even associated to the newborn.

“Joshua and Stephanie Mast have finished nothing however guarantee she receives the medical care she requires, at nice private expense and sacrifice, and supply her a loving house,” wrote the Masts’ attorneys.

The infant’s identification has been saved non-public, listed solely as Child L or Child Doe. The Afghan couple had given the newborn an Afghan title; the Masts gave her an American one.

Initially from Florida, Joshua Mast married Stephanie and attended Liberty College, an evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. He graduated in 2008 and bought his legislation diploma there in 2014.

In 2019, they had been dwelling with their sons in Palmyra, a small rural Virginia city, when Joshua Mast was despatched on a brief task to Afghanistan. Mast, then a captain within the U.S. Marine Corps, was a navy lawyer for the federal Middle for Regulation and Army Operations. The U.S. Marines declined to remark publicly, together with different federal officers.

That September in 2019 was one of many deadliest months of all the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan, with greater than 110 civilians killed within the first week alone.

On Sept. 6, 2019, the U.S. attacked a distant compound.

No particulars about this occasion are publicly obtainable, however in courtroom paperwork Mast claims that categorised reviews present the U.S. authorities “despatched helicopters filled with particular operators to seize or kill” a international fighter. Mast stated that slightly than give up, a person detonated a suicide vest; 5 of his six kids within the room had been killed, and their mom was shot to loss of life whereas resisting arrest.

Sehla Ashai and Maya Eckstein, attorneys for the Afghan couple, dispute Mast’s account. They are saying the newborn’s dad and mom had been truly farmers, unaffiliated with any terrorist group. And so they described the occasion as a tragedy that left two harmless civilians and 5 of their kids useless.

Each side agree that when the mud settled, U.S. troops pulled the badly injured toddler from the rubble. The infant had a fractured cranium, damaged leg and critical burns.

She was about 2 months outdated.

Mast known as the newborn a “sufferer of terrorism.” His legal professional stated she “miraculously survived.”


The infant was rushed to a navy hospital, the place she was positioned within the care of the Protection Division.

The Worldwide Committee of the Purple Cross instructed the AP that they started looking for her household with the Afghan authorities, typically a plodding course of in rural elements of the nation the place record-keeping is scant. At first, they didn’t even know the newborn’s title.

In the meantime, Mast stated, he was “aggressively” advocating to get her to the U.S. Over a number of months, he wrote to then-Vice President Mike Pence’s workplace, in line with displays filed in courtroom. He stated his colleagues within the navy tried to speak to President Donald Trump concerning the child throughout a Thanksgiving go to to Bagram Airfield. Mast additionally stated he made 4 requests over two weeks to then-White Home Chief of Employees Mick Mulvaney, asking for assist to medically evacuate the newborn “to be handled in a secure surroundings.”

The Masts had been represented by Joshua’s brother Richard Mast, an legal professional with the conservative Christian authorized group Liberty Counsel, which says it isn’t concerned on this case. Not one of the Masts responded to repeated requests for interviews.

In emails to navy officers, Mast alleged that Pence instructed the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to “make each effort” to get her to the US. Mast signed his emails with a Bible verse: “‘Dwell for an Viewers of 1, for we should all seem earlier than the judgment seat of Christ.”

Pence’s spokesman, Marc Quick, didn’t reply to requests for remark.

The U.S. Embassy by no means heard from Pence’s workplace, stated a Division of State official, who requested anonymity as a result of they didn’t have permission to talk publicly concerning the state of affairs. However they did start getting extremely uncommon inquiries about the potential for sending the newborn to the U.S. The diplomats had been rattled by the suggestion that the U.S. might simply take her away; they believed the newborn belonged to Afghanistan.

“I used to be conscious that it might not be clean crusing forward, however that simply made me extra decided to do the best factor,” the State Division official stated.

About six weeks after the newborn was rescued, the U.S. Embassy known as for a gathering, attended by representatives of the Purple Cross, the Afghan authorities and the American navy, together with Mast. The State Division wished to ensure everybody understood its place: Underneath worldwide humanitarian legislation, the U.S. was obliged to do all the things doable to reunite the newborn together with her subsequent of kin.

On the assembly, Mast requested about adoption, the State Division official stated. Attendees from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs defined that by Afghan legislation and customized, they needed to place the newborn together with her organic household. If that didn’t work, the Afghan Youngsters’s Courtroom would decide a correct guardian.

The American idea of adoption doesn’t even exist in Afghanistan. Underneath Islamic legislation, a toddler’s bloodline can’t be severed and their heritage is sacred. As a substitute of adoption, a guardianship system known as kafala permits Muslims to absorb orphans and lift them as household, with out relinquishing the kid’s title or bloodline.

American adoptions from Afghanistan are uncommon and solely doable for Muslim-American households of Afghan descent. The State Division acknowledges 14 American adoptions from Afghanistan over the previous decade, none prior to now two years.

But two days after the embassy assembly, a letter was despatched to U.S. officers in Kabul from Kimberley Motley, a near-celebrity American legal professional in Afghanistan, the State Division official stated. Motley wrote that she was representing an unnamed involved American citizen who wished to undertake this child. Motley declined to be interviewed by the AP.

Mast additionally continued his appeals to American politicians. The U.S. Embassy started listening to from Congressional staffers concerning the child, and diplomats met with a navy normal, the official stated.

The overall in flip put a “gag order” on navy personnel concerning the child and stated “nobody was to advocate on her behalf,” Mast wrote in a authorized submitting.

However he wasn’t prepared to surrender.

The aerial photos present crowds of individuals gathered close to Kabul Airport, the place water bottles are stated to be promoting for $40 apiece.


The Masts looked for an answer midway around the globe — in rural Fluvanna County, Virginia, the place they lived.

They petitioned the native Juvenile and Home Relations Courtroom, describing the newborn as a “stateless minor recovered off the battlefield.” In early November 2019, a decide granted them authorized custody. The title of this decide just isn’t publicly obtainable as a result of juvenile data are sealed in Virginia.

A couple of days later, a certificates of international start listed Joshua and Stephanie Mast as dad and mom.

The custody order was primarily based on the Masts’ assertion that the Afghan authorities — particularly now-deposed President Ashraf Ghani — meant to waive jurisdiction over the kid “in a matter of days,” in line with a listening to transcript. The waiver by no means arrived.

In an e mail to the AP, Ghani’s former deputy chief of workers Suhrob Ahmad stated there’s “no document of this alleged assertion of waiver of Afghan jurisdiction.” Ahmad stated he and the pinnacle of the Administrative Workplace of the President don’t bear in mind any such request going by way of the courtroom system as required.

The U.S. Embassy heard that Mast was granted custody. Army legal professionals assured them that the Marine was simply getting ready in case Afghanistan waived jurisdiction, however wouldn’t intrude with the seek for the newborn’s household, in line with the State Division official.

But all alongside they deliberate to undertake the newborn, in line with data obtained from the state of Virginia below a Freedom of Data Act request. Richard Mast wrote the Legal professional Basic’s workplace in November 2019 that the Masts “will file for adoption as quickly as statutorily doable.”

Within the meantime, Joshua Mast enrolled the newborn within the Protection Division well being care system, made an appointment at a U.S. Worldwide Adoption Clinic and requested to have her evacuated.

Then got here a shock: The Purple Cross stated they’d discovered her household. She was about 5 months outdated.

In late 2019, Afghan officers instructed the U.S. Embassy that the newborn’s paternal uncle had been recognized, and he determined his son and daughter-in-law had been greatest suited to take her, in line with courtroom data. They had been younger, educated newlyweds with no kids but of their very own, and lived in a metropolis with entry to hospitals.

The younger man labored in a medical workplace and ran a co-ed college, which is uncommon in Afghanistan. His spouse graduated from highschool on the prime of her class, and is fluent in three languages, together with English. They’d married for love, in contrast to many Afghans in organized marriages.

Mast expressed doubts concerning the newly-found uncle, describing him in courtroom data as “an nameless individual of unknown nationality” and claiming that turning the newborn over to him was “inherently harmful.” He requested the Purple Cross to place him in contact, however they refused.

In emails to a U.S. navy workplace requesting evacuation, Mast alleged that he learn greater than 150 pages of categorised paperwork, and concluded the kid was a “stateless minor.” Mast believed she was the daughter of transient terrorists who’re residents of no nation, his legal professional stated. He additionally speculated that if reunited together with her household, she could possibly be made a toddler soldier or a suicide bomber, offered into intercourse trafficking, hit in a U.S. navy strike, or stoned for being a lady.

However Afghanistan didn’t waver: the kid was a citizen of their nation.

Mast’s legal professional despatched the U.S. Embassy a “stop and desist” letter warning them to not hand the newborn over, in line with the State Division official. However on February 26, 2020, the Masts discovered that the U.S. was getting ready to place the newborn, now almost 8 months outdated, on a airplane early the next morning to affix her household in one other Afghan metropolis.

The Masts, represented by Richard Mast, sued the secretaries of Protection and State in a federal courtroom in Virginia, asking for an emergency restraining order to cease them. The Masts claimed they had been the newborn’s “lawful everlasting authorized guardians.”

Inside hours, 4 federal attorneys — two from the Justice Division and two from the U.S. Legal professional’s Workplace — had been on the cellphone, and Richard Mast was in Federal Decide Norman Moon’s workplace.

Richard Mast stated the newborn shouldn’t be “condemned to endure.” He complained that the Afghan authorities had not carried out DNA testing to substantiate the household they discovered was really associated to the kid.

However the Justice Division attorneys stated they’d no proper to mandate how the Afghan authorities vets the household, and that the Purple Cross — which has reunited family in conflict zones for greater than a century — had confirmed it was finished correctly. Additional, the federal authorities’s attorneys described the Masts’ custody paperwork from state courtroom as “illegal,” “deeply flawed and incorrect,” and “issued on a false premise that has by no means occurred” — that Afghanistan would waive jurisdiction.

Decide Moon requested Richard Mast: “Your shopper just isn’t asking to undertake the kid?”

“No sir,” Mast responded. “He needs to get her medical therapy in the US.”

Justice Division attorneys argued that the US should meet its worldwide obligations. Legal professional Alexander Haas put it merely: Taking one other nation’s citizen to the US “would have doubtlessly profound implications on our navy and international affairs pursuits.”

Decide Moon dominated in opposition to the Masts, and the newborn stayed in Afghanistan.

The subsequent day, she was united together with her organic household. The Afghan couple wept with pleasure.

“We didn’t assume she would come again to her household alive,” stated the younger Afghan man. “It was the very best day of our lives. After a very long time, she had an opportunity to have a household once more.”

In 2017, there have been 10 instances as many ladies going to high school in Afghanistan in comparison with 2003 – when it was about 3% of the nation’s women. With the Taliban taking on, trainer Jaala Shaw fears for college kids and would not need them to fall behind of their training.


Because the months handed in her new house in Afghanistan, the lady beloved getting henna painted on her palms and dressing up in new garments, the Afghan couple stated. She all the time wished to do her new mom’s make-up, or brush her hair.

“She knew about Allah, about garments, concerning the names of meals,” the lady wrote.

The couple cared for her as if she was their very own daughter, however with an additional measure of tenderness due to the unimaginable tragedy she’d already suffered.

“We by no means wished her to really feel she couldn’t have one thing she wished,” stated the younger man.

In the meantime, Mast continued to fret that the kid was “in an objectively harmful state of affairs,” Richard Mast wrote in courtroom paperwork. The Masts requested Kimberley Motley, the legal professional, to trace down the household, saying he wished to get the kid medical therapy within the U.S, Motley stated in courtroom data.

Motley contacted the Afghan household in March 2020, a few week after the newborn was positioned in her new house. Motley is called as a defendant of their lawsuit, however her legal professional, Michael Hoernlein, instructed the AP the claims in opposition to her are “meritless.” In courtroom paperwork, Motley’s attorneys describe her function as skilled and above-board, and requested that the claims in opposition to her be dismissed.

Motley had initially gone to Afghanistan in 2008 below an American-funded initiative to coach native legal professionals. She stayed, largely representing foreigners charged with crimes. She took on high-profile human rights instances, gave a TED Speak and wrote a ebook.

Over the course of a yr, Motley known as for updates concerning the little one and infrequently requested for images. In July, across the child’s first birthday, the couple despatched Motley a snapshot of the kid in swim trunks, smiling and splashing in a wading pool.

On the identical time, the Masts’ adoption case was nonetheless winding by way of the courtroom system in Fluvanna County, Virginia. In December 2020, the state courtroom granted the Masts a closing adoption order primarily based on the discovering that the kid “stays as much as this cut-off date an orphaned, undocumented, stateless minor,” in line with a federal lawsuit. Fluvanna County Circuit Courtroom Presiding Decide Richard E. Moore didn’t reply to repeated requests for readability on how the instances progressed.

Worldwide adoption legal professionals had been baffled.

“You probably have family there who’re saying, ‘no, no, no, we would like our daughter, we would like our little lady,’ it’s over,” stated Irene Steffas, an adoption and immigration legal professional. “There is no such thing as a manner the U.S. goes to get right into a match with one other nation with regards to a toddler that’s a citizen of that nation.”

Karen Regulation, a Virginia legal professional who makes a speciality of worldwide adoption, stated state legislation requires an accredited company to go to thrice over six months and compile a report earlier than an adoption might be finalized. The kid have to be current for the visits — however this child was 1000’s of miles away.

On July 10, 2021, across the child’s second birthday, Motley facilitated the primary cellphone name between the Afghan couple and Joshua Mast, with the help of translator Ahmad Osmani, a Baptist pastor of Afghan descent. Mast instructed the Afghan couple that until they despatched the kid to the US for medical care, she might “be blind, mind broken, and/or completely bodily disabled.”

However the Afghan man now elevating her, who had labored within the medical discipline, didn’t assume her burn scars, a leg harm and mysterious allergic reactions amounted to a life-altering situation in the way in which Mast described. The couple declined sending the newborn to the US.

The girl was pregnant, and frightened concerning the threat of such an extended flight. They stated they requested Mast: Might they take the newborn to Pakistan or India for therapy as a substitute?

The reply was no, their lawsuit says. The conversations continued for months. Osmani, the translator, vouched for the Masts and described them as type and reliable, in line with the lawsuit, which names him as a defendant.

Osmani didn’t reply to requests for remark. He requested a federal decide to throw out the lawsuit, and stated he by no means deceived anybody. He was solely a “mere translator.”

His attorneys wrote: “No good deed goes unpunished.”


In late summer time 2021, the Taliban seized energy in Afghanistan. Mast stated he contacted the household to deliver the newborn to the U.S. “earlier than the nation collapsed.” He stated he was “extraordinarily involved that they could not get one other probability.” The couple agreed.

Mast utilized for particular visas for the Afghan household and for family of Osmani, the translator, in line with courtroom data. They characterised the Afghan couple as an escort for a “U.S. navy dependent” — the newborn.

In an e mail to U.S. officers filed in courtroom, Mast wrote that Osmani was “very instrumental to serving to a U.S. Marine … undertake an Afghan little one.”

Quickly, the Afghan household started their days-long journey to the U.S. Joshua Mast instructed them to say he was their lawyer.

“If anybody asks to speak about your paperwork, present them this textual content: I’m Main Joshua Mast, USMC. I’m a Decide Advocate … ,” Mast texted them detailed instructions for learn how to cope with U.S. authorities, their lawsuit says.

When the household arrived in Germany for a stopover, Joshua Mast and his spouse greeted them on the air power base. It was the primary time they’d met in individual.

In Germany, the Masts visited the Afghan household’s room thrice to attempt to get the newborn to journey individually with them, “insisting that it might be simpler for the toddler to enter the US that manner,” the Afghan couple recalled of their lawsuit. They refused to let the lady out of their sight.

When the Afghans lastly landed in the US, they started explaining that the kid was too younger to have Afghan paperwork. That’s once they declare Joshua Mast pulled out an Afghan passport.

Inside was the identical photograph of the kid within the wading pool, however altered to alter the background, add a shirt and clean her hair. Mast instructed the Afghans to “maintain quiet” about having his title on her passport, their lawsuit alleges, so it might be simpler to get medical care.

The Afghan couple requested to be taken to Fort Pickett Military Nationwide Guard base, a location specified by Mast, in line with the lawsuit. Hundreds of Afghan refugees had been quickly housed there.

Quickly after, they stated, troopers got here to their room and instructed them they had been transferring. A wierd lady sat behind the van subsequent to a automobile seat, in line with courtroom data, and the newborn fussed as she buckled her in.

The van pulled as much as a constructing they didn’t acknowledge, the place a girl who known as herself a social employee stated the Masts had been the lady’s authorized guardians. Confused and frightened, the kid cried and the couple begged.

However it did no good. Mast took the newborn to his automobile, the place his spouse was ready, the lawsuit says.

They’d misplaced her.

Of their closely redacted response to the lawsuit, the Masts acknowledge they “took custody” of the kid; they stated their adoption order was legitimate and so they did nothing mistaken.

Richard Mast can be named as a defendant within the Afghan household’s lawsuit. He wrote in authorized paperwork that his brother’s adoption of the kid was “selfless;” it saved each the kid, and the Afghan household combating to get her again, “from the evils of life below the Taliban.”

The Afghan couple believed that their child was stolen, and so they instantly sought assist at Fort Pickett to get her again.

“However the enjoying discipline was not degree,” their legal professional, Ashai, instructed the AP. The couple “had been compelled to navigate a posh and complicated system out of the country by which they’d simply arrived, after having survived the best trauma of their lives.”

In the meantime, the couple says in courtroom paperwork, Osmani warned them to not contact a lawyer or the authorities, and advised that Mast may give them the newborn again in the event that they dealt straight with him.

And they also tried to keep up contact with Mast. They had been additionally frightened of him. If he might abduct their little one in broad daylight, they frightened he may harm them too, their legal professionals wrote in authorized filings.

The Afghan lady plunged right into a deep despair and, regardless of being 9 months pregnant, stopped consuming and consuming. She couldn’t sleep. Her husband was afraid to go away her alone.

“Since now we have come to America, now we have not felt happiness for even sooner or later,” the Afghan man instructed the AP. “We really feel like we live in a darkish jail.”

His spouse gave start to a lady on October 1, 2021. The younger mom’s grief turned overwhelming. A month later, she thought-about suicide and was hospitalized.

Quickly the couple sought authorized assist; by December 2021, the Afghan couple had requested the Fluvanna decide to reverse the adoption. However these proceedings, nearly one yr in, have been opaque and gradual.

On Feb. 27, 2022, when the Afghan child was 2 ½ years outdated, the Masts traveled to the Mennonite Christian Meeting in Fredericksburg, Ohio, to share their pleasure throughout a particular church service. In a video promoting the occasion known as “Strolling in Religion,” the pastor apologized to congregants that it might not be on-line, as a result of the Marine would share “very confidential, categorised info.”

“Unexpected occasions gave the couple an sudden alternative to face as much as defend harmless life,” learn this system flyer. “Come hear how God’s mighty hand allowed for a outstanding deliverance.”

Pastor John Risner instructed the AP that the Masts had requested the service be confidential, and he didn’t need to betray their belief by disclosing any particulars.

All he would say is that their story is “superb.”

Think about fleeing your house with nothing however your loved ones and a suitcase for a wierd nation the place you don’t know the language or the tradition. That is the fact for the Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban within the closing days of U.S. occupation.

NBCLX storyteller Clark Fouraker explains what occurs subsequent.


The destiny of the Afghan little one is now being debated in secret proceedings in a locked courtroom within the village of Palmyra, Virginia, house to about 100 folks.

Earlier this month, Joshua Mast arrived on the Fluvanna County courthouse alongside together with his spouse and his brother Richard. Mast was wearing his starched Marine uniform, holding his white and gold hat in his hand. The listening to stretched on for roughly eight hours.

The proceedings have been utterly shielded from public view, mandated by presiding Decide Moore. The AP was not allowed contained in the courtroom. Courtroom clerk Tristana Treadway refused to supply even the docket quantity, saying she might “neither verify nor deny” the case existed in any respect.

Greater than a dozen legal professionals streamed into the courthouse, carting packing containers of proof, and every stated they had been forbidden from talking.

Mast stays an lively responsibility Marine, and has since been promoted to main. He now lives together with his household in North Carolina. The Afghan toddler has been with them for greater than a yr.

In Texas, the Afghan couple continues to grieve the lack of the kid. The infant the lady gave start to shortly after arriving within the U.S. simply turned 1. The younger mom had deliberate to boost the ladies as sisters.

However they’ve by no means met.

“There’s nothing to have a good time with out her. There is no such thing as a happiness right here,” the Afghan man stated. “We’re counting the moments and days till she’s going to come house.”


Retired Related Press Afghanistan and Pakistan Bureau Chief Kathy Gannon, AP researcher Rhonda Shafner and AP Pentagon reporter Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.

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