A terrorist at home and a spy overseas
As a Muslim and frequent flyer, American businessman Syed Maswood is used to being wrongly suspected as an Islamic terrorist.
He’s not used to being called a United States spy in the Arab world.
The Connecticut nuclear engineer, whose home was raided this spring, was arrested during a September business trip in the United Arab Emirates on suspicion of being a CIA and FBI informant.
He spent a night in jail before US embassy officials won his release—only to return to the US, where he was detained and questioned a second time by Department of Homeland Security officials, he said.
Suspected of being a terrorist at home and a spy overseas, Maswood believes he’s the victim of two forces: prejudice against Muslims in the US and distrust of Americans abroad.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said he hasn’t heard of other cases like Maswood’s.
But it doesn’t surprise him that Maswood is stopped at US airports or that an American would be held on vague charges while travelling overseas, given a growing anti-American feeling in the Muslim world, Hooper said.
“Nothing surprises me any more,” Hooper said.
Though he has been charged with no crime, Maswood, a 41-year-old US citizen and father of three, has become accustomed to airport searches. He has spent months writing to government officials, demanding to know why he is searched and held when he travels.
“We have looked into the matter and determined that you will no longer encounter any automatic special attention beyond normal probabilities, upon future returns to the US,” the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote to him in August.
He has since carried that letter when travelling.
Maswood sells radiological detection devices. He was to discuss the installation of US-mandated equipment to detect radioactive material at United Arab Emirates ports.
However, when he landed in Dubai the evening of September 28, his passport was flagged.
He was wanted for arrest, but police would not say on what charge. He was handcuffed and taken to jail. He surrendered one of his cellphones, but didn’t tell police he had a second in his pocket.
Police searched his bag and his wallet, smiling when they found his National Republican Congressional Committee membership card.
“‘We found George Bush,”’ Maswood remembers them saying.
Maswood stood in a holding cell rank with urine and excrement and surrounded by razor wire. Hiding in the bathroom, he used his second cellphone to call the US embassy for help.
The consul who took Maswood’s case would not comment, but e-mails from the embassy and provided by Maswood lend credence to his account.
“They just want to get even with Americans,” Maswood said.
Embassy officials arrived the next afternoon and helped win Maswood’s release. He was ordered to return on October 2 to meet with the prosecutor. That’s when he first heard talk that he was providing information to the CIA and FBI.
Maswood believes the incident stems from a report he filed in 2002 against a former employee, a Jordanian man suspected of discussing business with Iran. The Commerce Department requires exporters to file such reports.
Maswood left the United Arab Emirates on October 18, and embassy officials have advised him in writing not to return, saying Americans are frequently mistreated or abused in prisons there.
When Maswood landed in Newark, New Jersey, exhausted from his trip, he said Department of Homeland Security officials scanned his passport and took him away. It was the fourth time he’d been detained but the first time since receiving the letter from Homeland Security.
He showed it to officials, but he said they couldn’t verify it.
They released him after four hours. When he asked why he was held, he said a woman told him to ask the FBI.
Neither the FBI nor Homeland Security would comment.—Sapa-AP