CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) — A Virginia teenager who claims he was beaten and tortured while stuck in Kuwait for a month after he was apparently placed on the U.S. government’s no-fly list was reunited with his family at a Washington-area airport Friday.
Gulet Mohamed, 19, of Alexandria, greeted family members at Dulles International Airport following a 14-hour flight from Kuwait. Mohamed said it felt great to be back in the United States and expressed concern for others who may be in the same situation he was in.
“There are probably people out there being tortured like I was, whose voices are not being heard,” he said.
Mohamed says he was blindfolded, beaten and whipped by unknown assailants while detained in Kuwait. Mohamed and his lawyers say the detention was at the behest of U.S. authorities, who also questioned Mohamed about his travel in 2009 to Yemen and Somalia. His return to the United States was delayed for weeks because U.S. authorities had apparently placed him on the no-fly list.
Mohamed is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia and immigrated at age 3, living in the Alexandria area outside the nation’s capital. In March of 2009, Mohamed traveled to Yemen and Somalia, where he still has family, to learn Arabic. He stayed in those countries for just a few months and settled in Kuwait in August 2009, where he lived with an uncle.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Mohamed’s allegations of mistreatment and whether the government considers Mohamed to be a security risk, citing a pending lawsuit Mohamed filed against U.S. officials.
Lawyers for the Council on American-Islamic relations filed a lawsuit on Mohamed’s behalf earlier this week, saying that Mohamed’s placement on the no-fly list was an unconstitutional denial of his basic rights.
A judge said Mohamed’s situation appeared to be a “clear violation” of his rights and was poised to order the government to allow Mohamed’s return until government lawyers said they were voluntarily going to allow Mohamed to return to the United States.
On Friday, Gulet’s mother Bella Ali hugged her son and thanked God and everyone who had taken up her son’s cause. Gulet’s brother, Fatah Mohamed, also thanked God and said his brother “was just trying to get closer to his religion” by traveling to the Middle East and learning the language of the Quran.
“You’re not going to find anybody who will say anything bad about Gulet,” he said. He added that the biggest concern of his family during his brother’s ordeal was that “we knew he was in the hands of people who lack principles and morals.”
Mohamed’s lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, said it is wrong for the government or anyone else to assume Mohamed was engaged in something nefarious because he traveled to Yemen and Somalia, two terrorist hotspots. For years, he said, Yemen has been a natural place to visit for people of Somali descent who want to learn Arabic.
Mohamed’s reunion with his family was delayed by questioning from authorities at customs after he landed Friday morning. Mohamed says the FBI tried to question him without his lawyer present. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said lawyers are not routinely granted access to clients, and described Mohamed as uncooperative.
In its lawsuit, CAIR alleges that the no-fly list has expanded dramatically in the last year and that 400,000 individuals have now been placed on the list.