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Analysis: From Lodi, Calif. to Pakistan

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor   |   Aug. 29, 2006 at 12:31 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- A Californian father and son are in legal limbo in Pakistan after their name came up in a terrorism investigation, and federal officials told them they will not be allowed to fly home unless they submit to interviews and lie detector tests.

Muhammad Ismail, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, and his 18-year-old U.S.-born son, Jaber Ismail, have not been charged with any crime, but the son is one of a number of young men from the small agricultural community of Lodi, Calif., named as having attended terrorist training camps.

The two, who have been in Pakistan for four years, attempted to return to the United States twice, only to be told by airline staff that they were on a "no-fly" list and would have to get "clearance" from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, their lawyer, Julia Mass, told United Press International.

She said the younger Ismail was eventually told by an embassy official that they would only be allowed to return if he submitted to a lie detector test. "They told him 'You have to take the polygraph exam, or we won't let you go home.'"

She said Ismail, who had already been questioned once by FBI agents at the embassy, had accepted advice from relatives not to undergo the polygraph.

"The government cannot hold U.S. citizens hostage in Pakistan in an effort to get them to waive one of their fundamental rights -- the right to silence," said Mass, who works for the ACLU of Northern California. She has lodged a complaint with the civil rights office at the Department of Homeland Security, and filed for redress with the Transportation Security Administration, which administers the U.S. "no -fly" list.

"U.S. citizens have an absolute right to be in, and return to, the United States," she said.

Officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection told UPI that -- while citizens returning might be detained if there were questions about their identity or handed over to federal law enforcement authorities if they were wanted -- there was no legal basis for denying a U.S. citizen entry to the country.

But the Ismails' case illustrates the legal limbo that those suspected of terrorist links or activities can find themselves in.

Under the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America, a tri-lateral policy process, the governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada pledged last year to integrate their terrorism and aviation security watch-lists.

"It's not even clear that they would be allowed to fly to Canada" so that they could present themselves at the land border, said Mass.

McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for California's eastern district, said last week that the Ismails were on a terrorism watch-list and would not be allowed to fly home until they agreed to talk to federal authorities.

"They've been given the opportunity to meet with the FBI over there and answer a few questions, and they've declined to do that," Scott told the San Francisco Chronicle.

His office told UPI the paper's report was accurate, but that he declined to comment further.

The Ismails are the uncle and cousin of Hamid Hayat, an agricultural laborer from Lodi. Hayat was convicted earlier this year of supporting terrorism by attending a military-style training camp in Pakistan run by Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida.

Attendance at such camps, run by a shifting constellation of groups committed to jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and now virtually indistinguishable from al-Qaida itself, is a major red flag for Western counter-terrorism investigators.

British authorities, for instance, believe that two of the four suicide bombers who blew themselves up on trains and buses in London on July 7, 2005, had met with al-Qaida militants and received bomb-making training at camps in Pakistan very like the one Hayat said he attended.

In a videotaped interview with the FBI in June last year, Hayat told agents that the younger Ismail was one of several young Lodi residents of Pakistani origin who had attended such camps.

Hayat's lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, told UPI that her client was telling investigators what they wanted to hear. "He named a whole bunch of people," she said, some of whom were in photographs he had been shown by agents prior to the recorded interview.

She said the FBI had either interviewed, or sought to interview, the other people her client named. All of them are at liberty, although the FBI says their investigation is continuing.

Ismail "was the only one who was outside of the United States," she said.

Hayat was convicted, solely on the basis of his admissions to the FBI, of having attended a terrorist camp, and faces sentencing later this year.

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