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After years on the federal No-Fly List, a Tigard man is now able to take to the skies

Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jamal Tarhuni addresses reporters alongside his family and supporters. Tarhuni said he was placed on the federal No Fly List in 2012 for no reason. He was taken off the list this week.The letter Jamal Tarhuni received on Monday was short and to the point.

“We have been advised," the letter read in part, "that you have been removed from the No Fly List."

For three years, the Tigard father has been fighting to get his name removed from the list, which is maintained by the FBI and bars certain individuals suspected of terrorist activities from boarding planes that enter U.S. airspace.

Now, it appears he's won.

Tarhuni has fought a hard battle to remove himself from the list, filing lawsuits against the federal government and appealing to the Terrorism Screening Center to have his name removed.

Nothing had been successful, but Tarhuni's attorney, Thomas Nelson, said the federal government's abrupt about-face came last month when the Department of Homeland Security asked Tarhuni to provide a full statement chronicling his travels in Libya, which he provided.

“Apparently, they digested it and here we are,” Nelson said. “This is good news for Jamal. This will open some doors for him to make life easier. Air travel is such a critically important part of modern living, particularly if one moves around.”

The letter removing Tarhuni from the list was sent Monday by Deborah O. Moore, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, which handles No Fly List cases.

In it, Moore said that Tarhuni’s removal from the list was based on “the totality of available information,” including his statement.

What happened?

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tarhuni was in Libya on behalf of Medical Teams International, distributing medical supplies. He said he was interrogated by the FBI about his connections in Libya and the mosque he attends in Southwest PortlandThe decision brings to a close years of frustration for Tarhuni, who discovered he was on the No Fly List while delivering medical supplies in Libya during that country's Civil War in 2012.

Tarhuni had made three trips to Libya delivering medical supplies for Tigard-based Medical Teams International.

It was during these trips that he found his way onto the No Fly List and was unable to return home after a two-month trip to the country.

Tarhuni — a Libyan native who has lived in America for more nearly 40 years and is a naturalized U.S. citizen — was stranded in Libya for a month. He said that when he attempted to find out why he couldn't return home, he was questioned by the FBI about his religious beliefs, the Portland mosque he attends, and whether he had met with Islamic extemists during his trips to Libya. He said he was asked to submit to a polygraph test and to sign away his Miranda rights.

Tarhuni said that he was placed on the list, not because he was suspected of terrorist activity, but in order to pressure him into speaking with the FBI.

"The No Fly List is being used to intimidate and coerce people," Tarhuni said in 2012. "It is being used not for protection, but instead for aggression."

Tarhuni’s family contacted the media in an attempt to bring Tarhuni home, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden called on the FBI to allow the Tigard father of three to return to his family.

Tarhuni’s case made national headlines, but the FBI refused to comment on Tarhuni’s situation, citing federal privacy rights which restrict the agency from discussing possible investigations.

The FBI eventually relented and allowed Tarhuni to return to Portland, but Tarhuni said his troubles didn't stop there.

When his plane landed in America, Tarhuni said that customs agents confiscated his camera and cellphone and copied all the paperwork he had with him.

Tarhuni has tried to board planes several times since 2012, each time without success. He was turned away from a flight to Minnesota to speak on behalf of Medical Teams International in 2013. He was also denied a flight back to Libya to attend the funeral of a loved one, Nelson said.

“There were a lot of difficult situations that the No Fly List imposed on him,” Nelson said. “There is an enormous stigma … It takes a lot of guts to stand up to the social pressures of post-Sept. 11 America.”

Lawsuit pending

TarhuniTarhuni filed a lawsuit in 2013 against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director James Comey, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Timothy Healy, the director of the FBI Terrorism Screening Center (which maintains the No Fly List), as well as the two men who questioned him in Libya.

Tarhuni said he has missed out on potential business and employment opportunities overseas, has had to give up helping Medical Teams International with their work in Libya, and has missed out on family events. In the eyes of many, he has been branded a terrorist without any charges being brought against him.

Nelson said that Tarhuni’s lawsuit is currently making its way through the court system and is scheduled to go before a federal judge in March for a status hearing.

Nelson said the lawsuit likely played a factor in Tarhuni being removed from the list.

“I think because this was approaching, the government felt the need to get moving on this and do a thorough review,” Nelson said. “Putting him on the list was so utterly wrong and indefensible. To equate this man to a terrorist is laughable in the extreme. I’m happy for him and we’ll try and get this wrapped up for him as quickly as we can.”

Not alone

Tarhuni isn’t the only Portland-area Muslim battling inclusion the No-Fly list.

Mustafa Elogbi was in Libya at the same time as Tarhuni; he was also placed on the No Fly List, but after mounting pressure, was allowed to return home a week after Tarhuni.

Nelson, who represents both men, said that the Homeland Security’s decision does not affect Elogbi, who remains on the No Fly List to this day

“Jamal chose to litigate. Mustafa chose not to,” Nelson said. “By litigating, it kept the pressure on the U.S. government who had to continually review and review.”

Tarhuni’s is one of three federal lawsuits currently challenging the No Fly List in Portland. A second lawsuit, filed by Portland resident Yonas Fikre, alleges that he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates for more than three months after he refused to become an informant for the FBI and spy on his mosque, Masjed As-Saber, in Portland.

Tarhuni attends the same mosque.

The mosque’s imam, Sheikh Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, is also on the No Fly List and one of 13 plaintiffs in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the U.S. government.

By Geoff Pursinger
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