Rahinah Ibrahim was living in San Francisco on a student visa in 2005 when she intended to fly to an academic conference in Hawaii. But the routine trip began a years-long legal battle when she was arrested while in line at the airport. Police and federal investigators said her name had been placed on the nation's no-fly list because she was considered a terrorist threat.
Ibrahim, who was wearing traditional Muslim clothing and traveling with her 14-year-old daughter, has steadfastly denied any link to terrorists in her native Malaysia. Because her visa has been revoked she's been forced to live back in her native country and is now suing the federal government in absentia -- a case that's scheduled to go to trial Monday, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News reported Sunday.
Ibrahim is a Malaysian national who is married to a Seattle man she met while attending school here.
Civil liberties groups have rallied behind Ibrahim's cause, arguing the government has no public accountability for how or why a person's name is added to the no-fly list -- and Ibrahim's attorneys argue potentially thousands of people with no ties to terrorists have had their travel rights curtailed by mistake.
The case will be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. U.S. District Judge William Alsup has twice sided with Ibrahim over government claims the case should be scuttled because a trial would reveal classified details of how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has control over the no-fly list, conducts terrorist investigations.
Ibrahim's attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, said the trial will be the first challenge to the government's no-fly policies in open court -- and she added she doesn't think the government has a defense against its secretive policies.
"No one knows how the targets get on the lists," Pipkin said. "The government has never contested this case on the merits. We don't think they have a defense."