Muslims decry U.S. ouster of Tempe doctor


Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 28, 2006 12:00 AM

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0128hassan0128.html

Representatives from leading Islamic organizations in
Arizona and the nation blasted the Department of
Homeland Security on Friday, alleging that the
government used discrimination, dishonesty and smear
tactics to force a prominent Muslim physician out of
the country.

The organizations, including the Council on American
Islamic Relations and Muslim American Society,
demanded that federal authorities allow Dr. Nadeem
Hassan to return to Tempe from Pakistan and said that
they are seeking meetings with the FBI, Homeland
Security and congressional leaders about the treatment
of immigrants.

Hassan, a Pakistani who belongs to an Islamic group
known as Jamaat al Tabligh, was forced out of the
country last week under threat of indefinite detention
based in part on a Homeland Security finding that JT
is a terrorist organization.

Those moves infuriated Valley Muslims, who say Hassan
is a peace-loving physician and Jamaat al Tabligh is a
non-violent, apolitical missionary movement.

"We have no problem with fighting terrorism. We're
partners in that," said Deedra Abboud, executive
director for the Muslim American Society. "But we
demand that the FBI and Department of Homeland
Security meet with us. . . . We want them to reverse
their decision."

Russ Knocke, a Homeland Security spokesman in
Washington, D.C., said Hassan's ouster from the United
States "is an example of what we mean when we talk
about restoring integrity to the immigration system."

"We're very clear about our commitment to shutting
down vulnerabilities before they can lead to terrorist
acts," he said. "Particularly in a post-9/11 world,
immigration benefits are a privilege."

Hassan had lived in the United States for more than 15
years, and practiced medicine at Maricopa Medical
Center under a temporary-work permit. He applied for
permanent residence in 2002 and, last year, sued the
government for its delayed handling of the green-card
request. He and his wife, Amber, also sought visas so
they could travel in December to Mecca for the Muslim
pilgrimage known as hajj.

The Hassans were granted visas. Last week, while they
were still overseas, Citizenship and Immigration
Services, or CIS, denied the green card and revoked
their travel authorization, leaving them stranded.
When the Hassans returned Jan. 18 to New York, they
were held by Customs and Border Protection agents who
threatened to jail them unless they voluntarily left
the country. They flew to Pakistan.

Hassan has no criminal record and is not charged with
terrorism. In an e-mail to The Arizona Republic from
Karachi, he vowed to "fight the injustice" and
complained that CIS has "no proof of myself being
implicated in terrorist activity in any shape and
form."

"I have been living as a peaceful citizen in the U.S.
since April 1989," he said.

Hassan said he was held for 19 hours at John F.
Kennedy International Airport. "The customs and border
security staff treated us worse than animals," he
said. "Some of the staff were abusive and even
physical."

Hassan's immigration attorney in Phoenix, Eric
Bjotvedt, said he is continuing legal efforts to bring
the doctor home. Bjotvedt and Muslim leaders accused
Homeland Security of setting up Hassan by allowing
international travel, then revoking the green card
while he was away so there was no chance for defense
in court.

During Friday's news conference at the Islamic
Cultural Center in Tempe, Asim Ameer, a board member
with the Council on American Islamic Relations,
condemned the government's tactics as "underhanded."
He added that, after Homeland Security accused Hassan
of terrorism, he was allowed to fly commercial
airliners from the Middle East to New York and back.

"Clearly Dr. Hassan is not a terrorist," agreed Dr.
Nadeem Kazi, president-elect of the Association of
Physicians of Pakistani Descent. "Otherwise, he would
have been arrested in the United States or upon
re-entering the country."

Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, said there
was no nefarious plan to revoke Hassan's green card
while he was overseas, especially in a department that
handles thousands of cases daily. Knocke also rejected
assertions that discrimination was involved.

"We operate on intelligence," he said. "Intelligence
does not discriminate. It simply gives our personnel
the specific information they need to target a bad
actor."

In revoking Hassan's green card, CIS said he committed
fraud by failing to declare his leadership in a number
of Muslim groups, including JT and a mosque in Mesa.
Bjotvedt said that the application form asks about
membership in "every political organization,
association, fund, (etc.)," and that Hassan didn't
understand religious affiliations were required.

Bjotvedt complained that CIS misrepresented an FBI
affidavit that says Jamaat al Tabligh is "vulnerable
to being used by Islamic extremists." That declaration
concludes that the bureau "is unable to rule out the
possibility that Hassan poses a threat."

CIS went much further, finding that JT "is a terrorist
organization" and that Hassan "engaged in terrorist
activity" by working with it. Jamaat al Tabligh is not
on the State Department's list of designated terrorist
organizations.

Deborah McCarley, a Phoenix FBI spokeswoman, said she
could not discuss Hassan but emphasized that the
bureau investigates prospective immigrants thoroughly
on behalf of Homeland Security.

"Since 9/11, the name-check process involves more than
just a criminal-records review," she said. "The FBI is
doing its job."

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said he has followed news
coverage about the Hassan case but was unaware that
Muslim leaders asked for a meeting.

"This wasn't profiling, as I understand it," Kyl said.
"There is no question that the individual had
involvement with the organization. . . . The question
is, How directly involved was he and how involved is
the organization in the kind of activity that our
government wants to target?

"I don't know the answers to those things. But in a
broader sense, two things are true. One, you've got to
be very vigilant that people who are affiliated with
terrorist enterprises and terrorists don't aid and
abet them. Number 2, you've got to be very careful
that innocent people aren't caught up in that first
activity."

Reporter Pat Flannery contributed to this article.
Reach the reporter at

dennis.wagner@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8874.
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