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FBI Accused of Using No-Fly List to Keep Some Muslim Americans Abroad

Jerome Socolovsky | Washington 16 June 2010

U.S. authorities have beefed up enforcement of a no-fly list after several recent terror plots nearly succeeded. Now, an American Muslim group says the authorities are using the no-fly lists to prevent some Muslim Americans from returning to their country.

Yayha Wehelie is one of six American-born children of a Somali couple who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. Two years ago, with his mother's encouragement, he went to Yemen to study Arabic and get married.

He reportedly had contact in Yemen with an alleged Al Qaeda member. And on May 4, on his way back to the United States, he was stopped in Cairo and told that he could go no further because he was on the FBI's no-fly list.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says that in Egypt, Weheli has been repeatedly interrogated by or on behalf of U.S. authorities and was told he could come back to America if he agreed to spy on other American Muslims.

Council director Nihad Awad told a news conference in Washington that the council has documented around a dozen similar cases of what he is calling "forced exile."

"We are witnessing what appears to be a new policy by the Obama administration of barring American citizens from coming home based on suspicions," said Nihad Awad.

After the Sept. 11,2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the FBI compiled a list of people who were suspected of posing a threat to aviation. But that didn't stop a Nigerian man from attempting to bomb a Detroit, Michigan - bound airliner last Christmas. And the main suspect in the Times Square bombing attempt last month in New York city was able to board a flight to Dubai even though he had been placed on the list.

The FBI has reportedly expanded the list while Yemen has become a growing focus of concern among counterterrorism officials.

Ibrahim Hooper is a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

"We're not saying that the United States government cannot prevent certain individuals who they have real evidence that they're a danger to America or to other passengers," said Ibrahim Hooper. "Sure, I don't want to fly with somebody who's dangerous. But there should be oversight, there should be procedures there should be legal recourse for those on these lists. You can't just throw out constitutional rights in the name of security."

The council is calling these cases a form of extraordinary rendition. That was the practice under the Bush administration of having terrorism suspects flown to countries where harsh interrogation methods were used.

Wehelie's brother, sister, parents and two cousins were also at the press conference. A cousin said the family was "as American as apple pie" and noted that an older brother had served with the U.S. military in Iraq.

Wehelie's mother Shamsa Noor was overcome with emotion when she recalled that she suggested her son study Arabic in Yemen.

"And I feel so guilty because I'm the one who sent him there," said Shamsa Noor. "And he doesn't have anything to do with that."

In a statement, the FBI said the recent terror plots require it to "thoroughly investigate every lead to fend off any potential threats to the U.S." It also said the FBI is always careful to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans." However, a spokesman would not comment on this particular case.



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