After a month on the No Fly List, Tigard resident is finally let back into country - but still has to clear his name
When Jamal Tarhuni finally arrived at Portland International Airport a cheer erupted from his family and friends.
Dozens of people rushed to greet the 55-year-old Tigard man, but none were faster than his 10-year-old son, Rasheed.
Rasheed stretched on his toes for a hug as he clutched onto a string of balloons that read, 'Welcome Home.'
It was the first time in more than three months the family had seen Tarhuni, who had been stranded in Libya since mid-January after being placed on the No Fly List.
Among the dozens of supporters anxiously awaiting Tarhuni's arrival was Karen Redington, who said she couldn't think of anything more important than seeing the father come back to his family.
Redington held a sign that read simply, 'I'm sorry.'
'I want them to know that what the FBI did does not represent all of us, and does not represent this country's values,' she said. 'We want them to feel loved. I can only imagine the type of questions going through their minds.'
The former furniture store owner was in Libya for months working to deliver medical supplies for Tigard-based Medical Teams International when his name somehow made it onto the federal No Fly List. Without explanation, he was told he wouldn't be allowed to fly back to Portland.
Tarhuni, a Muslim, said he was questioned by the FBI about his religious beliefs, the Portland mosque he attends, and whether he had met with Islamic extremists. Tarhuni said he was asked to take a polygraph test and sign away his Miranda rights.
After he refused, Tarhuni was stranded in Libya for a month.
Clutching his wife, Tarhuni told a crowd of reporters that he would continue to fight for his rights and clear his name, and is considering possible next steps with his lawyer.
Tarhuni said his fight with the FBI wasn't over. Even after he arrived in the U.S., Tarhuni said customs agents confiscated his camera and cell phone and copied all the paperwork he had with him.
'I do intend to protect my rights and I intend to clear my name and restore my travel privileges so I'm not stopped at any port when I travel,' Tarhuni said.
The Tigard man said he would have done whatever it took to get back to his family.
'It feels great to be with my family,' Tarhuni said. 'They have suffered enough the last four weeks.'
Not an isolated case
Tarhuni said that that the government's actions were unjustifiable.
'I was intimidated, humiliated, insulted, deprived of my basic rights, stripped of my right to travel back to my country under the so-called 'No Fly List,'' he said.
A naturalized citizen, Tarhuni said the treatment he received from the U.S. government made him feel like a second-class citizen, and said that the FBI blocked his return home in order to pressure him into giving information.
'The No Fly List is being used to intimidate and coerce people,' Tarhuni said. 'It is being used not for protection but instead for aggression.'
The FBI has refused to comment on Tarhuni's situation, citing federal privacy rights which restrict the agency from discussing possible investigations.
Tarhuni's situation has made national headlines as his family worked to bring him home, and has highlighted several similar cases involving Portland-area Muslims in the last year.
Mustafa Elogbi, of Portland, was visiting Libya at the same time as Tarhuni when he was also placed on the No Fly List. He was supposed to fly back to Portland with Tarhuni and a lawyer they share, Tom Nelson, but was told by the FBI at the last minute that he would have to fly separately. He is expected to arrive in Portland on Monday.
A third case involved a man detained in Britain on a trip to Italy last year. Nelson said he was working with a fourth Portland-area Muslim man who was placed on the No Fly List after he refused to become an FBI informant inside The Islamic Center of Portland, the mosque all the men attend.
'It's not paranoia'
Tarhuni said that growing up in Libya, it was common for people to be stopped, questioned, detained and tortured by the Libyan government.
'I have never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be faced with similar actions from my own country in the United States of America, the land of justice,' Tarhuni said. 'What happened to me reminded me of the tyrant regime and what has been done for the last 24 years. It felt like a slap in the face.'
Tarhuni's wife, Nariman Abdusamed, said she was glad to have her husband home, and called the last month of waiting 'a nightmare.'
'We shouldn't have went through this,' she said, her arm wrapped around her husband. 'He went to help and this is what he gets back? It's hard. I cannot believe we're going through this and what our own country did to us. I'm glad he's back and I want to put it behind me and not even think about it.'
Tarhuni urged Portland-area Muslims to educate the FBI about their religion and help stomp out racial profiling,
'If you think you are safe, think again, because today it's me; tomorrow it could be you.'
Family friend Brandon Mayfield said he understands that sentiment.
Mayfield made headlines after the FBI wrongfully linked the Beaverton lawyer to a terrorist bombing in Spain in 2004.
'There is that fear of the unknown for Muslims who are being targeted by FBI and federal law enforcement agencies,' he said. 'You never know where it ends. Sometimes it could be that nothing is going to happen or it could be that you have something to worry about. It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. That's the bottom line.'