Muslim American mayor sues US government over terror watchlist

19 Sep 2023 01:10pm
Pix for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX by AFP
Pix for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX by AFP

WASHINGTON - A group of 12 Muslim Americans, including a longtime New Jersey mayor, sued the Justice Department on Monday in an attempt to end its use of a secretive FBI watchlist that they described as a "de facto Muslim registry."

The suit, filed in US District Court in Massachusetts, said that by placing the individuals on the Terrorist Screening Dataset, the federal government had "sentenced" the plaintiffs "to lifetime second-class citizenship."

"That placement designates them as worthy of permanent suspicion and imposes sweeping consequences that alter nearly every aspect of plaintiffs’ lives," Anadolu Agency quoted the lawsuit.

It alleged that the plaintiffs had suffered harms, including public humiliation, surveillance, harassment during travel, job denial, and being "effectively exiled from the United States" and said the list itself was a "de facto Muslim registry" with over 98 per cent of the publicly identified individuals on it being Muslim.

The suit further maintained that even after an individual was removed from the list, they suffered a lifetime of deleterious ripple effects.

"The stigma and harm of watchlisting placement lasts a lifetime, even if defendants eventually decide that an individual does not meet the vague, all-inclusive standard for placement and choose to remove an individual from the watchlist," it said.

It named Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, US Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Matthew Olsen, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and others as co-defendants.

Addressing reporters at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) advocacy group's Washington, D.C. headquarters, staff attorney Hannah Mullen said the plaintiffs "had been swept onto the watchlist because the standards for watchlist inclusion were vague rubber stamps at best, and in practice were used to target and discriminate against Muslims."

"Over 98 per cent of the names on portions of the watchlist that were leaked in 2019 are identifiably Muslim. That did not happen by accident," she said.

"The federal government considers the very fact of being Muslim to be suspicious and puts people on the watchlist as a result of their Muslim identity, Islamic religious beliefs, Islamic religious practices, travel to Muslim majority countries and other discriminatory factors. None of our clients have ever been indicted or convicted of a terrorism-related crime," she added.

The remaining names on the list, some 1 to 2 per cent, were comprised of people convicted of terrorist attacks, including the 1995 sarin bombing in Tokyo, jailed Colombian revolutionaries, and an Irish Republican Army bomber, according to CAIR.

The plaintiffs include Prospect Park, New Jersey Mayor Mohamed Khairullah, who was disinvited from a White House Eid celebration at the last minute in May, Michael Migliore, a Muslim American who resided in Saudi Arabia, Nidal El-Takach, a Michigan resident, and nine others.

Addressing reporters in New Jersey, Khairullah said he had not been officially informed why his name was on the leaked list, nor definitively told that he was removed, and said that "the fact that we were refused access to the White House indicated that this watchlist had a ripple effect."

"It violates my constitutional right as an American to due process because there are people out there who think I'm a bad person," he said. "This was caused by the US government. The US government needs to clear my name and the names of others who are being harassed and intimidated." - BERNAMA