February 8, 2012 by staff
Portland, Oregon, A Muslim civil rights group wants the Justice Department to investigate the tactics of FBI agents in Portland, Oregon, after two Libyan-Americans from the area recently were barred from returning to the United States.
The two men — Jamal Tarhuni, 55, and Mustafa Elogbi, 60, — traveled separately to Libya after the overthrow of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Tarhuni delivered humanitarian supplies with the group Medical Teams International, while Elogbi went to visit family.
Last month, though, both Libyan-born U.S. citizens were barred from return flights to the U.S. and told the FBI wanted to question them.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said that it has now received three reports of Portland FBI agents’ involvement in travel restrictions for Muslim U.S. citizens in the last six months. The other case involved a man who made headlines last year when he was detained in Britain as he tried to travel to Italy.
Tarhuni was stopped in Tunisia, where he says he was questioned by a Portland-based FBI agent. Tarhuni said he initially agreed to the questioning that delved into his religious practices but stopped the interview after he was strapped to a lie detector and asked to waive his Miranda rights.
Elogbi got as far as a connecting flight in London before being sent back to Tunisia. He was held in a British jail for two days and told by British authorities that the U.S. government was preventing him from flying home.
Elogbi said his situation is especially insulting because he went to Libya to celebrate the demise of a regime that quashed citizens’ liberty.
“Now I find myself like in the times of Qaddafi, put in jail for no reason,” Elogbi said in a telephone interview from Tripoli. “That is humiliation for an American citizen. I cannot accept it.”
It is not clear why the FBI wants to question either man. Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Portland office, would not comment.
Both men are members of the Islamic Center of Portland, which previously has drawn scrutiny from law enforcers. In 2010, the mosque’s imam filed a federal lawsuit challenging his placement on the government’s no-fly list.
Elogbi has been a naturalized U.S. citizen for more than 30 years. His wife, Annie Petrossian, said her husband has never been especially political, but when mass protests began to rock the Qaddafi regime, he participated in anti-Qaddafi rallies in the U.S. and traveled several times to the border between Libya and Tunisia to help at refugee camps. While he sometimes faced extensive questions at customs when he returned to the U.S., he never had any serious difficulties traveling until last month.
CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas, who has represented dozens of Muslims who have had their travel to the U.S. restricted, said the tactics used by the Portland FBI have been especially brazen. Elogbi’s case is particularly troublesome because it appears he was detained by British authorities at the request of the United States.
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