April 13, 2007 (WASHINGTON) — An American Muslim held in Ethiopia will soon be freed but his return to the United States has been complicated because his name appears on a U.S. “no-fly” list even though he has been cleared of terrorism suspicions, U.S. officials said Friday.
Amir Mohammed Meshal, 24, should be released within the next 48 hours after being detained for two months in an Addis Ababa jail under a controversial program to interrogate alleged extremists who may have fought with radical Islamists in Somalia, officials said.
“We hope to see him reunited with his family very soon,” said deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey. “We expect an arrangement will be made within the next 24-48 hours.”
Ethiopian authorities have scheduled a hearing on Saturday to determine Meshal’s status.
However, his return to his family in the state of New Jersey, has hit a snag because his name appears on a watch list of potentially dangerous passengers circulated to international airlines by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, the officials said.
Because his name is on that list, airlines are declining to allow him to fly, one official said. The officials declined to speak on the record because they are not supposed to disclose information about the list.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said Meshal’s return to the U.S. is a State Department issue and referred questions there. He and State Department officials declined to comment on whether Meshal is on a watch list.
The FBI has confirmed that its agents questioned Meshal in Kenya before he was deported to Somalia and then transferred to Ethiopia. They determined he had not violated any U.S. law and is not wanted by any U.S. law enforcement agency.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the FBI had not informed the State Department about Meshal’s name appearing on the watch list or the reasons for it.
Meshal was in Somalia at a time when much of the country was controlled by hardline Islamists.
Hundreds of people, including Islamist fighters, fled Somalia in late December and January after Ethiopian troops invaded the country in support of a weak but internationally backed government.
The U.S. embassy in Nairobi asked Kenyan authorities to deport Meshal to the United States and then filed a formal protest when it learned he had in fact been returned to Somalia and then sent to Ethiopia.
Meshal is one of dozens of suspected Islamist fighters held by Ethiopia in what human rights activists and lawyers say is an illegal detention program that violates international laws on deportations and the treatment of prisoners.