The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four different men, blames the United States of violating their rights by keeping them on the no-fly list after they declined to spy on local Muslim communities, notably in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska. Some view the move as a punishment, though more likely this is a rigid coercive tool, plaintiffs argue.
“The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, adding the practice looks more like an extortion.
The four plaintiffs have different stories to tell, however sharing one common feature: all the four point to US authorities over-policing the local Muslim society.
Awais Sajjad, for instance, a Muslim, lawfully naturalized US resident living in the New York area learnt he was on the no-fly list after he was turned back at the boarding zone at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
At the airport, FBI agents questioned Sajjad, a Muslim, before he was finally released. But later returned with an offer. In exchange for working for them, the FBI could provide him with US citizenship and compensation. To score a deal, the agents reminded Sajjad, it was up to the FBI to decide who was on the no-fly list.
“The more you help us, the more we can help you,” FBI agents said, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Another plaintiff, Naveed Shinwari, hasn’t seen his wife in more than two years, ever since they got married, he living permanently in the US, while his wife being an Afghan citizen. He strongly suspects it’s due to his refusal to become an informant for the FBI.
Returning back from the wedding, before he could even get home to Omaha, Nebraska, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents. These, he recollects, asked if he knew anything about national security threats. A third FBI visit followed when he got home, with the officer wanting to know about the “local Omaha community”, if he knew “anyone who’s a threat.”
Next time he was denied a boarding pass on a domestic US flight as he was to embark on a temporary job in Connecticut. Police told him he had been placed on the US no-fly list, although he had never in his life been accused of breaking any law.
Two more stories slightly varied from the previous ones, in that they contain a certain straight-forward directive, in line with the Muslims’ belief that law enforcement at times considers them a target, particularly thanks to mosque infiltrations and other surveillance practices.
Jameel Algibhah of the Bronx alleges that the FBI explicitly asked him to infiltrate a Queens mosque and pose as an extremist in online forums.
Their case follows at least one other, brought by the ACLU in Oregon, according to which the FBI attempted to leverage no-fly selectees into informants. Most sadly, the agency that’s behind the practice ever since no-fly lists emerged, is uniquely responsible for taking names off them. What all the four Muslims, who have never been convicted of a crime seek for, is to be cleared of the unjust punitive measures.
The FBI refused to comment Tuesday. But the process used to place individuals on the no-fly list has always been considered legal and well founded by officials, who said the practice relies on credible intelligence. Notably, MI5 in Britain openly thanked those Muslims who contributed to spying on others.