U.S. Citizen Aid Volunteer Blocked from Reentry after Trip to Libya
Sunday, February 12, 2012
An American citizen who traveled to Libya in support of its revolution against Muammar al-Gaddafi has been prevented from returning to the United States by the U.S. Government–on suspicion of terrorism. Jamal Tarhuni, a 55-year-old importer from Portland, Oregon, who fled Gaddafi’s regime more than 35 years ago, was on his way home from Libya via Tunis, Tunisia, January 17 when he was prevented from boarding his flight. He says he was interrogated by the FBI, but ceased to cooperate when agents demanded he waive his Miranda rights and answer questions about his Muslim religious beliefs while wired up to a lie detector. He has been told that he will be allowed to return to Portland on Tuesday.
Tarhuni was returning from his third trip to Libya in the past year for Portland-based Christian nonprofit Medical Teams International, for which he had taken medical supplies to Libyan hospitals overwhelmed by the ongoing fighting associated with the Libyan revolution. Tarhuni, who was granted political asylum by the U.S. when he arrived from Libya years ago, now ironically finds his rights as a citizen being violated by that same government.
Nor is he alone in his plight. Mustafa Elogbi, 60, also a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Libya and now living in Portland, where he has run a food store for 24 years, traveled to Libya to celebrate the downfall of Gaddafi and visit family. On his way back to the U.S., he reached London, U.K., before authorities prevented him from boarding his flight back home on January 8 and jailed him for two days. He returned to Tunisia and then Libya, where he has been waiting for permission to come home. Neither man has been charged with a crime, although both their names are probably on the Department of Homeland Security secret No-Fly list, which is said to contain 20,000 names, including about 500 Americans.
Tarhuni and Elogbi attend the same Southwest Portland mosque, Masjed As-Saber, which has been under FBI scrutiny since at least 2002, when some of its attendees were indicted for plotting to join al-Qaeda, in what became known as the Portland Seven case. Presumably U.S. authorities were taking advantage of Tarhuni and Elogbi’s presence outside the United States to interrogate them and perhaps try to convince them to work as informers.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim-American civil rights group assisting both men, gets several calls a month from Muslim U.S. citizens who are suddenly barred from re-entering the country from abroad. CAIR has requested an investigation of the Portland FBI office, while Elogbi, noting the irony of his situation, said “Now I find myself like in the times of Gaddafi, put in jail for no reason,” which he called a “humiliation for an American citizen. I cannot accept it.”
Tarhuni and Elogbi were scheduled to return to the U.S. with their attorney on February 14. However they have now been informed that only one of them will be allowed to travel with a lawyer, and they must fly on separate flights at least 24 hours apart.
-Matt Bewig, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Oregon Men Stuck in Tunisia Now Told They Must Fly Home Separately (by Helen Jung, The Oregonian)
What Gives? Another American in Libya No-fly Limbo (by Kari Huus, msnbc.com)
2 Oregon Men Struggle to Return from Libya (KGW and Associated Press)
Tigard Businessman Blocked from Returning to U.S. after Humanitarian Trip to Libya (by Helen Jung, The Oregonian)
American Aid Worker in Libya: US Bars my Return (by Kari Huus, msnbc.com)
Islamic Group Asks for Investigation of Portland FBI over Detention of Muslim Men (by Helen Jung, The Oregonian)
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