Washington – A 19-year-old Virginia teenager who says he was kidnapped and tortured by Kuwaiti authorities and placed on a “no-fly” list that prevented him from going home has returned to the United States and been reunited with his family.
FBI agents questioned Gulet Mohamed after his plane landed at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington early Friday, said his attorney, Gadeir Abbas. That questioning ended, and the teen was subsequently cleared through customs.
Mohamed’s family greeted him with balloons and a dozen roses.
Mohamed’s lawyers argued that as a U.S. citizen, Mohamed had a right to be in the United States, and that the government had provided no reason for including him on the no-fly list. Federal prosecutors later told a judge they were making arrangements to allow the teenager to return to the United States.
Mohamed, a Muslim-American from Alexandria, Virginia, is suing the U.S. government over the alleged detention.
Mohamed had been trapped in Kuwait for nearly a month, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Virginia.
No-fly lists were set up to protect Americans against potential threats. They are designed to prevent terrorist suspects from boarding planes to and from the United States.
But Abbas says in the lawsuit that the United States impeded his client’s basic right to return and live freely in the country. Abbas is a staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Mohamed, who was previously prevented from boarding a flight to the United States, has alleged that he was tortured while in detention in Kuwait and has faced unconstitutional coercion to answer questions by FBI agents who ignored his repeated requests for legal representation,” the statement also said.
Mohamed’s return came after a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Judge Anthony J. Trenga told the government that it should make arrangements to allow Mohamed to return unless it could produce evidence against him.
The lawsuit says Mohamed came to the United States from Somalia with his family when he was 3, grew up in Virginia and is now a naturalized citizen. In March 2009, Mohamed’s curiosity led him halfway around the world to visit relatives living overseas and to learn Arabic, according to the lawsuit.
He started his journey in Sanaa, Yemen, but then moved to Somalia, where he stayed with relatives for several months. By August he was on his way to Kuwait where an uncle took him in so he could continue his Arabic studies, the suit says.
Mohamed followed proper travel procedures, according to the lawsuit, renewing his visitor’s visa twice during his stay in Kuwait. But when he went to Kuwait’s international airport last December to get another 90-day extension, he waited several hours. The lawsuit says Mohamed wrote an e-mail to his brother in Virginia while he waited, saying the process was taking longer than usual. That was the last time anyone heard from him for a week, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, Mohamed says he was approached at the airport by two men who handcuffed and blindfolded him. They drove him to another location in an SUV. Mohamed claims he was beaten, tortured and interrogated over the next week. The lawsuit describes him being whipped, threatened with electrocution and questioned by captors who had private information about his family in the United States .
They also questioned him about his relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who has close ties to al Qaeda and who is believed to be in Yemen. Mohamed’s lawyer says Mohamed denies any link to al-Awlaki.
Mohamed was transferred to a deportation facility in Kuwait on December 28, the lawsuit says. He used a fellow detainee’s hidden cell phone and was able to contact his family and retain a CAIR attorney.
According to the lawsuit, Kuwaiti officials told Mohamed’s family they were holding him on behalf of the United States. His lawyers say Kuwaiti officials tried to deport Mohamed but were unable to do so because the United States had placed him on the no-fly list.
A U.S. official confirmed to CNN that Mohamed is on the list, but would not explain why.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley denied Mohamed was detained at the behest of the United States.