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American Muslims Treated As Second-Class Citizens And Placed On No Fly List File Lawsuit

Anas Elhady, a 22 year-old United States citizen and Muslim in Michigan, is “routinely referred for secondary inspection, handcuffed, and detained by CBP at land border crossings” when he re-enters the country from Canada, according to a class action lawsuit filed against the No Fly List.

Often, Elhady is “routinely asked about his religious beliefs and practices, what sect of Islam he belongs to, what mosque he prays in, among other things.” He is questioned for four to twelve hours. In 2015, he was detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers in a freezing cold cell with bright lights for several hours before he became unconscious. Guards woke him up, and when Elhady demanded he be taken to a hospital, the officers initially refused his request.

The young American Muslim is one of seventeen plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter in Michigan, which seeks damages for violations of their rights. A second lawsuit, also filed by the CAIR chapter, challenges the listing of American Muslims on the watch list and “seeks a declaration that the watch list is unconstitutional,” as well as an “overhaul” of the No Fly List.

“The terrorism watch lists are premised on the false notion that the government can somehow accurately predict whether an innocent American citizen will commit a crime in the future based on religious affiliation or First Amendment activities,” said CAIR Michigan legal director Lena F. Masri. “Our lawsuits challenge the wrongful designation of thousands upon thousands of American Muslims as known or suspected terrorists without due process.”

The class action lawsuit [PDF] alleges constitutional rights violations and demands redress for American Muslims designated for the No Fly List, “falsely stigmatized as ‘known or suspected’ terrorists.” It challenges the lack of due process for American Muslims attempting to challenge their designation as well. Attorneys hope all Americans, who have experienced similar rights violations, will benefit from the lawsuit.

Elhady had his jacket and shoes confiscated by CBP officers when he was detained in a freezing cold cell at the Ambassador Bridge Port of Entry in Detroit. “After several hours,” Elhady “knocked on the door repeatedly and begged for someone to help him.” No one came, and he collapsed after “shaking uncontrollably.” He repeatedly asked to go to the hospital and was ignored until finally he was taken, handcuffed to a bed in an ambulance.

“The nurse told me, why’s your lips blue? And why do you look like that? I told her I’m freezing. They put me in a cell, and she started arguing with the officer and he shut her down. So he told her shut up.”

Once Elhady was given treatment and prescribed medication, he was handcuffed and transported back to Ambassador Bridge. Later, in December 2015, Elhady was contacted by FBI Special Agent Josh Allen, who said his phone was tapped and “all his calls were being listened to by the FBI.”

Elhady told CAIR Michigan his biggest fear inside the cell was that he was “going to die in there.” He thought about how his family would react but also wondered if they would ever know how he died, where he died, or even what happened, because if they could “keep me for that long time inside a cell, then if something happened to me, I was thinking they would take my body and no one would know how I died.”

Another form of mistreatment highlighted in the lawsuit involves FBI agents pressuring American Muslims to become informants if they wish to be removed from the No Fly List.

Yaseen Kadura, a 26 year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim who lives in Illinois, was “surrounded by eight armed CBP officers, handcuffed and detained in a holding cell for nearly eight hours at the border stop in Port Huron, Michigan,” after returning from a trip to Canada. His phone was confiscated by CBP officers, and Kadura was informed that it was passed on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and would be returned in 24 to 48 hours. This all happened on September 22, 2012.

On October 22, he arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to fly to Libya. Turkish Airlines personnel informed him he could not be checked in to his flight to Istanbul, which would connect with a flight to Libya. He was told he was on the No Fly List.

The lawsuit indicates, on November 14, Special Agent Arkin Fout of Homeland Security Investigations (a part of ICE) harassed and attempted to coerce Kadura into meeting with him at an undisclosed location without any legal counsel. He pressured Kadura to become an informant in Libya.

“[Fout] told me he knew I was a good American and that I wanted the best for America, and that I cared for Libya and that I wanted democracy in Libya. And you know, [he] alluded to us establishing a relationship that was beneficial to the U.S. government somehow. You know, pretty much asking me to be an informant overseas,” Kaduras said in an interview with CAIR Michigan.

Kadura told the special agent he was a “broke college student” just trying to keep his head down and focus on school and graduate. He didn’t want to deal with anything like becoming an informant. Fout homed in on the fact that Kadura was broke and claimed the FBI could help him.

Kadura pursued an appeal with Homeland Security against his placement on the No Fly List. He was informed on September 4, 2015, that the “U.S. government knows of no reason” why he “should be unable to fly.” Yet, on January 15 of this year, he was unable to check in to a domestic flight to New York. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents took him to a security room before he boarded. Later, information from Terrorist Screening Center agents allegedly was passed to Western Union, which now bars him from using any Western Union branch for wire transfers.

Osama Ahmed, a 24 year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim in Michigan, was also coerced into becoming an informant after placement on the No Fly List. He returned from a flight to Yemen in 2011. FBI agents came to his home days later and took him to a Mongolian restaurant to recruit him as an informant, who would be deployed to Yemen. They enticed him with sky-diving lessons in addition to the prospect of removal from the terrorism watch list.

“[FBI agents] told me stuff like we will teach you how to skydive and you can use any weapon you want. And they knew I was into video games and ‘Call of Duty’ and things like that and basically they’re just using things I thought were cool at the time to try to lure me into to be an informant for them overseas. And I just wanted my name off the list,” Ahmed recalled in an interview with CAIR Michigan.

Other American Muslims pursuing redress for alleged rights violations include: Ahmad Ibrahim Al Halabi, who was detained in a freezing cold cell at Ambassador Bridge like Elhady; Adnan Khalil Shaout, who was removed from a plane in June 2011 and subjected to “another extensive pat-down and search of his personal belongings” while the entire flight was delayed; and Samir Anwar, who had his phone confiscated at Port Huron and was “interrogated about his religious beliefs and religious affiliations.”

There also is a four year-old, who was apparently on the terrorism watch list when he was seven months old. “Baby Doe” had his boarding pass stamped with the “SSSS” designation, which indicates a person is a “known or suspected terrorist.” Agents subject him to extensive searches, pat downs, and chemical tests. All the items in his mother’s bag were searched, including each of his diapers.

The baby’s mother filed a civil rights complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties of TSA, and currently, she has absolutely no idea why her baby was on a terrorism watch list.

As the class action lawsuit argues, innocent Americans, including children, are being put into a terrorist watch list system, which is accountability-free. The American Muslims named in the lawsuit endure an “injustice of historic proportions.”

“Through extrajudicial and secret means, the federal government is ensnaring individuals into an invisible web of consequences that are imposed indefinitely and without recourse as a result of the shockingly large federal watch list that now includes hundreds of thousands of individuals.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."