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No-fly list grounds another San Diegan

by Ashly McGlone
Tuesday, July 03, 2012

City College student halted on way to Kenya

Ali Ahmed, a Somali refugee and U.S. citizen studying journalism at City College in San Diego, was headed to Kenya last week for two big milestones.

He was to meet his father, with whom he was separated during the Somali civil war. And he was to meet his fiance and take part in an arranged marriage.

Instead, Ahmed, 20, was refused entry at the Kenyan airport and sent to Bahrain, where he was informed that he was on the U.S. government’s no-fly list.

Ahmed left the U.S. on May 23 and spent a month in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Before his departure, Ahmed said he had not traveled outside of the U.S. since arriving with family from Kenya in September 1999. They moved from Riverside to San Diego in 2000.

For more than a week, he has been stranded in Bahrain trying to return to San Diego, he said.

“I am really confused because nobody told me the reason why. They just told me, ‘You are rejected,’” Ahmed said by phone. “I am a citizen. I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting it... I just hope I can come home safely from Bahrain. I am staying with strangers right now. I don’t feel comfortable.”

Ahmed said he was told Thursday by the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain that he was cleared to return to the states Monday evening. When he arrived at the airport for his $1,900 flight, however, he was once again denied. No offers have been made to reimburse him for flight costs, he said.

While in Bahrain, Ahmed connected with the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urging her to intervene.

“His placement on the no-fly list without due process of law, and his corresponding inability to fly back home to the United States, constitute grave violations of his civil rights and liberties,” wrote CAIR staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas. “If Mr. Ahmed is prevented from returning home to the United States again, he may seek legal recourse to protect his right to return home.”

The local chapter of CAIR recently intervened in another case when a San Diego man was placed on the no-fly list. San Diego State graduate Kevin Iraniha, 27, was permitted to return to the United States on foot through the San Ysidro Port of Entry June 7 after he was denied a flight home from Costa Rica two days earlier.

Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the local CAIR chapter, said both instances illustrate the issues with the list.

“Many innocent citizens have been caught up in this list,” Mohebi said. “Sen. Ted Kennedy was put on the list, Nelson Mandela, an 18-month-old baby was on list, former U.S. Marines have been put on that list,” adding that high-profile mistakes are more easily remedied. “For the rest of the community, it is very difficult to get them off this list.”

The U.S. Privacy Act prohibits the FBI, one of multiple law enforcement agencies to make referrals to place individuals on the list, from discussing who may or may not be on the no-fly list. The list was started after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and is overseen by the Terrorist Screening Center.

Darrell Foxworth, special agent and public information officer for the FBI’s San Diego division, said in an email, “The U.S. Government does not confirm or deny whether an individual is on the watchlist. Disclosure of such information could be harmful to our nation’s security.”

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain could not be reached for comment.

Ahmed, a City Heights resident, said when he is not studying, he works full-time as a security guard and spends time with relatives on his mother’s side. He said he plans to spend two more semesters at City College and then transfer to San Diego State next year.


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