When 34 American Muslims arrived back in the US following an Islamic conference in Canada, they found themselves detained for over six hours. After seeking answers for months from Department of Homeland Security officials (and getting none), five of them have decided to sue the agency (with a little help from the ACLU and CAIR). “None of the citizens who were detained had done anything unlawful, nor were they charged with any unlawful act,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York chapter. “It is very troubling that citizens who were exercising their First Amendment rights were singled out because of their faith and attending the conference.”
The conferencein question, entitled “Reviving the Islamic Spirit,” has been held in Canada since 2003 and featured such shady attendees as the Premier of Ottawa and the Mayor of Toronto. One of the detainees was Zaytuna’s Hamza Yusuf, who met with US President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11th attacks. The agents were “very polite and, I think, very bored,” Yusuf said. “I think they literally were doing what the computer told them.” There were even reports that one border agent was in tears over the detention.When the arrests took place in December, customs spokeswoman Kristi Clemens said that agents were acting on intelligence that those who attended the conference may have been bringing terrorists back in their cars. “We had ongoing, credible intelligence that conferences such as this one in Toronto had been used, are being used and will be used by terrorists to transmit fraudulent documents, to fund-raise and also to mask the travel of terrorists,” Clemens said. “Based on that information, we decided to have individuals verify they were who they said they were.”
Now that there is a lawsuit filed however, Daniel Sutherland, the Washington-based officer for civil rights and civil liberties, declined to say why the searches had taken place but said officials had made policy changes to prevent a repeat of the situation (no word on the credible information). Meanwhile, the plaintiffs are determined to clear their names. “I’m totally against terrorism,” said Galeb Rizek, 32, of Niagara Falls. “I want to be protected. I’m an American, too.”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.