No-fly list: vital security measure or state-sanctioned religious profiling?

A Muslim civil rights group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Muslims who say they have been wrongfully added to government watch lists.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo/File
Gulet Mohamed of Alexandria, Va., (l.) spoke to the media at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., with his attorney Gadeir Abbas (r.) in January 2011. Mr. Mohamed's placement on the no-fly list prevented him from returning to the United States from Kuwait.

When Yaseen Kadura traveled to Libya to help journalists covering the civil unrest that followed the Arab Spring uprising that was taking place across the Middle East, he didn’t know that the trip would be the beginning of his troubles with law enforcement.

Mr. Kadura, a US citizen, had been placed on a no-fly list – a watch list of people who have been designated as known or suspected terrorists whom the government prohibits from flying to and from the United States. But his distress wasn't just confined to the airport. His Western Union transfer failed to go through in one incidence, and at one point, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent pressured him to become an informant.

On Tuesday, a Muslim civil rights group has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on behalf of anyone who has wrongly been placed on the terror watch list including, Kadura and a 4-year-old California boy, who was placed on the list when he was 7 months old. The attorneys filing the lawsuit hope that it will spotlight the ramifications of being placed on the list that are usually overlooked.

"The government has engaged in a decade-long delusion that being placed on a watch list is not a big deal," said Gadeir Abbas, one of the attorneys who filed the suit. "The goal is for the watch-listing to affect every aspect of these people's lives."

Attorneys who filed the lawsuit claim that the placement on the list isn't driven by real security threat, but rather by religious profiling. According to the lawsuit many of the plaintiffs are residents of Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Arab population and has been subjected to aggressive watch-listing by federal agents.

The no-fly list has been contentious, often engendering numerous lawsuits from civil rights activists. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that up to 35 percent of the names on the watch list are outdated, and thousands of others are placed on the list without conclusive factual evidence. Some of the lawsuits have prompted the government to make a few changes, including informing people on the list of their status with reasoning as to why they are being included.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a heated debate about the treatment of Muslims in the US. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have come under fire for outlining policies that would be alienating toward Muslims. And as the Monitor’s David Cook wrote in December, "Hate crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques across the US have tripled since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University." For many American Muslims, the increased number of fellow Muslims included on the no-fly list is yet another form of reactionary discrimination.

This report contains materials from the Associated Press.

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