New York Muslim Stranded in Germany by No-Fly List

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today urged the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to allow Samir Suljovic, a 26-year-old New York resident and American citizen, to return home from Germany.

Suljovic traveled to Montenegro this summer to visit family and friends. After trying to fly back home to New York on October 1, he was informed by airline agents in Austria that the DHS and CBP had asked foreign authorities to prevent him from boarding his flight. Suljovic has been stranded for 17 days and has repeatedly been denied the right to fly home to New York. He has contacted the DHS and CBP liaison at JFK International Airport, but has received no response.

Despite being advised to seek help from the U.S. embassy in Germany, embassy personnel have reportedly provided no assistance, and instead have interrogated Suljovic and allegedly searched his cell phone without his permission.

Suljovic was born and raised in Oakland Gardens, Queens.

A letter addressed to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, DHS Secretary Janet Napalitano, New York members of the United States Congress, and the United States Embassy in Munich was sent by CAIR-NY expressing concern and disappointment in the government’s role in preventing Suljovic from returning to his family in New York.

Earlier this year, CAIR called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate acts of “coercion and intimidation” allegedly used by the FBI to pressure Muslim citizens into giving up their constitutional rights if they wished to return to the United States from overseas.

Us Muslims Sue Gov’t Over Border Detentions

US Muslims sued the US Department of Homeland Security, accusing the US border agents of rights violation and racial profiling. The suit, filed in US District Court on Wednesday, April 20, named Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff among four defendants in what the New York Civil Liberties Union called a case of profiling, according to Reuters on Thursday, April 21. The three men and two women said the agents who detained them as they returned from an Islamic conference in Canada violated their rights, held them, along with dozens of other US Muslims. They added that they were interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted against their will in December 2004. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs, who were later released without charge, were singled out after telling customs officials they had attended a “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference in Toronto. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but asks for a declaration that the government action was unlawful, an injunction against further enforcement of such policies and practices and erasing from all federal databases of information obtained from the plaintiffs, Reuters reported. The annual conference draws thousands of Muslims from Canada, the United States and overseas, AFP said. A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the US have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Amnesty International said that racial profiling by US law enforcement agencies had grown over the past years to cover one in nine Americans, mostly targeting Muslims. ‘Most Humiliating’ Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union which is helping represent the plaintiffs, condemned what she described as the “over-zealous and counter-productive ethnic and religious profiling” encouraged by government security policies in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “They are engaging in profiling,” said Lieberman, adding that “the government detained people because they attended a conference that was perfectly legal, exercising their basic rights.” None of the citizens who were detained had done anything unlawful, nor were they charged with any unlawful act,” Lieberman told reporters. “You don’t lose your rights when you’re a Muslim. You don’t lose your rights when you cross a border, and you certainly don’t lose your rights by attending a religious conference,” she added. One of the plaintiffs, Sawsaan Tabbaa, an orthodontist from Buffalo in New York, said the experience at the border crossing “was the most humiliating I have ever gone through.” “It was unbelievable. I am proud of being American but I couldn’t believe my eyes something like this could happen.” Tabbaa said she had refused to be digitally fingerprinted on the grounds that she had done nothing wrong, but was physically forced into compliance. “I started sobbing like a kid,” she said. At the time of the incident, numerous press reports quoted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman Kristie Clemens as claiming the government had “credible information” that Islamic conferences were being used to promote and fund terrorist activities. On Wednesday, Clemens said she was unable to comment on a specific case that was the subject of a lawsuit, but added that the “priority mission” of the CBP was to “prevent terrorists” and their weapons entering the country. “As we continue to pursue this mission, we will continue to work with all communities to protect the freedoms of all Americans,” she said. Islamic Leaders Vehemently Deny The Charges. Tabbaa’s son, Hassan Shibley, 18, said the border guards had initially insisted they were picked “at random”, but when he entered the processing room he saw that all the occupants were Muslim. “It was like I was walking into my local mosque,” Shibley said. Lieberman, whose organization filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there was nothing about the RIS conference to raise suspicions. “If the government has suspicions about criminal activities they have every right and indeed the obligation to go after those suspicions,” Lieberman said. “This is a case of rounding up the usual suspects in derogation of their rights and in derogation of all of our liberties.” A recent nation-wide poll, conducted by the Cornell University, showed that at least 44 percent of the Americans backs curbing Muslims’ civil rights and monitoring their places of worship.