Former Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Speaks Out Against Radicalization of Youth, Told He’s on US No Fly List

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Mourad Benchellali (Screen shot from Witness to Guantanamo)

A former Guantanamo prisoner, who uses his experience to speak out regularly against the Islamic State and its recruitment campaigns for youth, was blocked from traveling from France to an anti-radicalization conference in Canada. He was told he could not board his flight because he is on the United States’ No Fly List.

The Associated Press reported Mourad Benchellali was not allowed to travel because the Air Transat flight from Lyon to Montreal went through US airspace.

“Our personnel had to, and duly applied the provisions of a US security program known as Secure Flight, as all airlines must,” the Canadian airline told the AP.

Benchellali, a French citizen, was released from the prison at Guantanamo in July 2004. He faced trial and was convicted of crimes in France in 2007, but the French Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in February 2009. A higher court ordered his retrial in 2010.

He had no idea he was on the watch list, however, this was his first “trans-Atlantic flight.”

The former Guantanamo prisoner planned to attend a conference organized by the Observatory on Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Organizers were shocked that their guest was “banned” from traveling and would not be speaking alongside police and university researchers scheduled to participate. He also was to attend another conference, “48 Hours for Peace.”

In February, President Barack Obama spoke at a “Countering Violent Extremism” summit where he argued that al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups were terrorists “desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like [the Islamic State] somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.”

“We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and [Islamic State] are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth. And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back.”

People like Benchellali are pushing back. When he was 19-years-old, according to a previous report from the AP, he “viewed the voyage to al Qaeda’s training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a romantic adventure.” (more…)

US Government Notifies American Muslims, Who Refused to Be FBI Informants, of Removal from No Fly List

The United States government sent four American Muslim men letters notifying them that they had been removed from the No Fly List. The men had no criminal records when they were put on the list and claim that they were put on the watch list in retaliation for not becoming FBI informants.

The notification came days before a major hearing in New York City on the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the four men—Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad.

“I have no words. This is very big news for me,” Sajjad declared in a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations representing them.

“I hope next month I will travel to visit my grandmother in Pakistan. I miss my grandmother who is very sick and over 90 years old now. She raised me after my mother’s death.”

Sajjad has accused FBI agents of subjecting him to ““extensive interrogation, including a polygraph test, after which he was asked to work as an informant for the FBI.” And, his grandmother has been very sick since February 2012 but his placement on the No Fly List has kept him from traveling to see her.

Another plaintiff, Jameel Algibhah, stated, “They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life. I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”

Algibhah declined a “request from FBI agents to attend certain mosques, to act ‘extremist,’ and to participate in online Islamic forums and report back to the FBI agents,” according to the filed lawsuit.

“After Mr. Algibhah learned that he was on the No Fly List, the same FBI agents again visited him, telling him that only they could remove his name from the No Fly List if he agreed to act as an informant.” He refused to become an informant, and, as a result, has not been able to visit his wife and three daughters in Yemen since 2009.

The Center for Constitutional Rights claims the men have lost their jobs, faced stigmas in their communities and “suffered severe financial and emotional distress.”

While the letters were clearly intended to convince the men to drop their lawsuit and help the government win dismissal, lawyers for the men will continue to seek redress for their placement on the No Fly List. (more…)