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‘We’re seeking justice’: US Muslim Mayor at heart of lawsuit to end FBI watch list

September 20, 2023 at 3:42 pm

Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah speaks in New Jersey, United States on May 16, 2021 [Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

When Mohamed Khairullah was abruptly turned away from a White House Eid Al-Fitr celebration four months ago, he demanded answers, Anadolu Agency reports.

Khairullah, the long time Mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, had been invited to the event, and was on his way to the US capital when he received a call telling him that he would no longer be allowed to enter the executive mansion. He was offered no explanation.

He has, since, been joined by prominent New Jersey politicians, including Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Representative, Bill Pascrell, in demanding answers.

The Biden administration’s response? Silence.

Khairullah is now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking an end to the secret FBI watch list that he was placed on in 2019, and which he believes has led to repeated encounters with law enforcement, including the White House disinvitation.

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“We have sought answers from the federal government as to why, first of all, I’m on the watch list. And second of all, about the treatment that I’ve received, whether it’s at airports, border crossings or the disinvitation to the White House, and it has fallen on deaf ears,” he told Anadolu in a phone interview.

For us, as Muslims and Arabs, we deserve to be first-class citizens just like everybody else, or citizens in general, because there should be no classes. There should be no profiling based on ethnicity, religion, national background. So we’re seeking justice, essentially

Khairullah is joined by 11 other Muslim-Americans who have never been charged with, much less convicted of, terrorism-related offenses, and have chosen to sue the Biden administration in a district court in Massachusetts in a bid to end the watch list’s use.

Khairullah maintains that, while the group is seeking an end to the “current dysfunctional list”, they do not want to halt all security screening efforts.

“We need a smarter system in terms of protecting American soil, rather than a system based on profiling that mostly targets Arabs and Muslims,” he said.

‘Lifetime second-class citizenship’

The suit says that, by placing the individuals on the Terrorist Screening Dataset, which is also known as the “no-fly list”, the federal government has “sentenced” the plaintiffs “to lifetime second-class citizenship.”

“That placement designates them as worthy of permanent suspicion and imposes sweeping consequences that alter nearly every aspect of Plaintiffs’ lives,” the lawsuit says.

It alleges that the plaintiffs have suffered harm, including public humiliation, surveillance, harassment during travel, job denial and being “effectively exiled from the United States”, and says the list itself is a “de facto Muslim registry” with over 98 per cent of the publicly identified individuals on it being Muslim.

The suit further maintains that, even after an individual is removed from the list, they suffer a lifetime of deleterious ripple effects.

“The stigma and harm of watch listing placement lasts a lifetime, even if Defendants eventually decide that an individual does not meet the vague, all-inclusive standard for placement and choose to remove an individual from the watch list,” it says.

“Once an individual is placed on the federal terrorist watch list, they are branded as a second-class citizen for life, even if the government eventually realises that the individual should not have been placed on the list in the first place,” it added.

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That was the case with Khairullah, according to his attorneys, who said in a press conference in Washington, that he was removed from the list in 2019, but continues to suffer negative fallout.

“The government still retains records of his past status and uses them against him. As a result, the US Secret Service barred him from entering the White House and attending an Eid Al-Fitr celebration earlier this year,” Hannah Mullen, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group, told reporters.

The lawsuit names Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, US Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle, Assistant Attorney-General for the National Security Division Matthew Olsen, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and others as co-defendants.

Khairullah maintained that by being placed on the watch list he has “been criminalised in the eyes of the public”, sharply critiquing what he said has been a complete lack of due process, maintaining that the lawsuit is about far more than just his case.

“They might de-escalate the actions against me, but that does not mean that there’s not a wider problem in terms of targeting and profiling the community at large, and that doesn’t pertain only to the current situation,” he said.

“We are seeking a better America for our children and everybody else’s children. So I think, as Americans who are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness, we’re entitled to answers and we’re entitled to due process.”​​​​​​​

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