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FBI accused of using no-fly list to ‘coerce Muslims’ to become informants

FBI accused of using no-fly list to ‘coerce Muslims’ to become informants

Categories: Latest News

Friday April 25 2014

The Guardian this week reported on a lawsuit filed by four American Muslims who claim harassment by the FBI and the operation of a no-fly list used to intimidate Muslims to become informants for the agency. The no-fly list, maintained by the FBI and implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), prevents those placed on it from flying to, from, or over US territory. The Muslims named in the lawsuit allege violation of their right to freedom of movement through harassment and detention at airports in the US, as well as denial of air travel.

One of the four Americans, Naveed Shinwari, in an interview with the Guardian claims he was detained and questioned twice by FBI agents on homebound travel to Omaha, Nebraska. He also alleges visits to his home by FBI agents. He goes on to suggest a possible link between the events saying a month later, he was unable to get a boarding pass after purchasing a plane ticket for a temporary job in Connecticut. The police notified him he had been placed on the US no-fly list despite having no history of being accused of breaking the law. Shinwari received another FBI visit in which agents asked him about “local Omaha community” and if he knew “anyone who’s a threat”.

In return, Shinwari asked “What can I do to clear my name?” He recalls being told “you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money.”

Despite his suspicions, Shinwari does not know for certain that the FBI placed him on the list as either a punitive measure or a pressure tactic. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the US government’s official policy is to neither confirm nor deny watch-list status.

The lawsuit accuses the US attorney general, Eric Holder; the FBI director, James Comey; the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson; and two dozen FBI agents of using the no-fly list as a leverage to coerce Muslims to spy on their communities. The lawsuit seeks to remove the four Muslims from the no fly list as well as reform the legal mechanism to contest placement on the list.

The ACLU observes in a report published last month that the Associated Press reported a doubling of names on the list on the previous year with approximately 21,000 individuals of which roughly 500 are US citizens and lawful permanent residents.

According to the Guardian, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) Christopher Piehota affirmed in a federal court filing in March 2011 that FBI agents could nominate candidates to the list.

However, he told the court that inclusion depends upon “whether there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist”. He also informed that audits and quality control measures were periodic because “Mere guesses or ‘hunches,’ or the reporting of suspicious activity alone is not enough to constitute a reasonable suspicion and are not sufficient bases to watchlist an individual.”

Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers engaged in the lawsuit said “This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect over-policing in Muslim-American communities”.

As reported in the Guardian last week, New York’s Police Department declared it had disbanded its Muslim surveillance unit after legal challenges over its violation of civil rights. The unit collated databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. It further carried out infiltrations and surveillance of Muslim student groups as well as mosques.

The US lawsuit and widespread surveillance of Muslim communities by law enforcement agencies resonates well with incidents in the UK where numerous allegations of a similar type have emerged. Cases of harassment, airport detention and home visits by MI5 and MI6 agents desperate to coerce Muslims into spying for the security forces have come to light in recent years.

The nature and scale of the problem of profiling Muslims since the ‘war on terror’ is well documented in Arun Kundnani’s new study on surveillance, law enforcement and counter-terrorism policies and their impact on Muslim communities in the UK and US.


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