August 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Lawsuit filed to remove Muslim-Americans from 'terror watch' list

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid, left, co-consul Gadier Abbas, not pictured, and staff attorney Lena Masri speak about a lawsuit in front of the Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse in Detroit. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Detroit— A local Muslim-American group Thursday announced it has filed a federal lawsuit based on complaints the government has unjustly put a disproportionate number of Muslim-Americans on the nation’s “terror watch” list.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, says the lawsuit is not a reaction to a list uncovered last week that showed Dearborn has the second-highest concentration of people designated by the U.S. government as being “known or suspected terrorists.” Rather, his organization is seeking “remedies” to unjustly putting Muslim-Americans names on a list that don’t belong there.

“This is a broader problem regarding the Muslim community,” said Walid during a news conference across the street from the U.S. District courthouse in downtown Detroit.

CAIR-MI lead attorney Lena Masri said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of five people, is an attempt “to challenge the government’s broad and unchecked powers.” Masri added the practice is “unconstitutional” and the lawsuit seeks to remove the plaintiff’s names from the list and also provide an avenue for others to contest their names being on the list.

An online news agency reported last week New York, Dearborn and Houston are the top three cities in the United States with people suspected of having terrorist ties. Dearborn has one of the highest percentage of Arab-Americans in the United States.

Walid said the issue has led to stops of Muslims and Arab-Americans at border crossings and in some cases, prevented them from taking flights.

“It’s an ongoing problem and has actually ballooned under President Obama,” Walid said.

Local attorney Gadier Abbas, the co-counsel on the federal lawsuit, said he did not know how many local people are on the list but that “anecdotally” there are many. There have been an estimated 1.5 million names put on the list over the past four years, he added.

Abbas said the issue is a real concern and affects many local people who show up to board a plane and see there are “4 Ss” attached to their boarding pass indicating they are on the list.

“You show up at the airport and face humiliation of having to go home,” Abbas said. “The federal government has no business at all placing people on a “No Fly” list.”

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and members of Metro Detroit’s Arab-American and Muslim communities last week called for a congressional hearing into the report that ranked cities by the number of suspected terrorists.

McQuade, who heads a Detroit office that prosecutes cases involving terrorism and national security, said no one should assume the report — from the National Counterterrorism Center’s Directorate of Terrorist Identities — is accurate.

“I haven’t seen it, but the numbers don’t really jibe when you talk about major metropolitan communities. ... It seems far fetched,” she said.

Detroit News Staff Writers Jennifer Chambers and David Shepardson contributed.

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid, co-consul Gadier Abbas, and staff ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)