Foreign officers plead not guilty in Fort Leonard Wood attempted child abduction case
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS -- Two Middle East military officers in Missouri for training at Fort Leonard Wood pleaded not guilty this week to charges in an attempted child abduction case, officials said.
"Looks like they are going to be with us for a while," Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long said Friday.
Mohammed Mahmoud Omar Mefleh, 34, of Jordan, and Antoine Chlela, 31, of Lebanon, are held in the county jail with bail set at $200,000 for each. They are charged with enticement of a child and harassment.
The case has put communities outside the sprawling military base on alert.
"As you can imagine, it has been alarming to a lot of people down here," Long said.
On Oct. 18, a 12-year-old girl told police two men approached her around 4:30 p.m. at a bus stop near St. Robert, Mo., while she waited for her sister to get home.
She told police the men wanted to have sex with her and yelled: "Get in the car, it's time to leave."
She said the men then drove to a group of apartments where she thought one of them lived. But they returned, banged on the front door of her home, asking her to unlock it so they could "party," according to court records.
The girl told police that the men had first followed her stepfather down the road to ensure he was gone.
"We were lucky on this one," said Long, describing the alleged victim as a "smart little girl."
After the men left her home, she flagged down a passing fire truck and reported the incident. About a half hour later, police apprehended Chlela and Mefleh. Long said one of them was in the car, the other in a residence he had permission to be in. Both were cooperative.
Though the defendants pleaded not guilty this week, charging documents say they changed their story several times when initially questioned by authorities.
Michael Lowe, listed as Mefleh's attorney in online court records, didn't return a call seeking comment Friday. An attorney wasn't listed yet for Chlela.
The defendants have addresses in the Waynesville/St. Robert area and inside the base, Long said.
Fort Leonard Wood spokeswoman Tiffany Wood said the men were part of the International Military Student Office. They are at the base temporarily to learn how to be better commanders.
"They were here attending routine training," she said.
Mefla arrived in April to take the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Captains Career Course.
Chlela arrived this month with plans to take the Engineering Captains Career Course.
Wood, the base spokeswoman, said there are often officers from other countries on base for training, mainly in the field of chemicals, engineering and military police.
Fort Leonard Wood, 135 miles southwest of St. Louis, is also one of four places in the country where new Army recruits go for basic training.