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American Muslim stranded in Kuwait on 'no-fly' list sues U.S.

By Katie Glaeser, CNN
  • Gulet Mohamed, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is on a "no-fly" list and cannot fly home
  • He says he was departing Kuwait after a visit when he was held and questioned
  • His interrogators knew details about his family in the United States, he says
  • Mohamed filed suit, claiming the U.S. is refusing to let him return home

(CNN) -- A 19-year-old American Muslim detained and questioned in Kuwait is suing the U.S. government, claiming it is refusing to let him fly home because he is on a "no-fly" list.

Stuck in limbo between the country he calls home and the place he was visiting on what his lawyer describes as a journey of self-discovery, Gulet Mohamed of Alexandria, Virginia, has been trapped in Kuwait for nearly a month, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Virginia.

"No-fly" lists were set up to protect Americans against potential threats. They are designed to prevent terrorist suspects from boarding planes to and from the United States.

But Mohamed's lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, says in the lawsuit that the U.S. government is impeding his client's basic right to return and live freely in the United States. Abbas is a staff attorney for the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations.

At a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Judge Anthony J. Trenga told the government that it should make arrangements to allow Mohamed to return before the end of this week unless it could produce evidence against him.

The lawsuit says Mohamed came to the United States from Somalia with his family when he was just 3 years old, grew up in Virginia and is now a naturalized citizen. In March of 2009, Mohamed's curiosity led him halfway around the world to visit relatives living overseas and to learn Arabic, according to the lawsuit.

He started his journey in Sanaa, Yemen, but then moved to Somalia where he stayed with relatives for several months. By August he was on his way to Kuwait where an uncle took him in so he could continue his Arabic studies, the suit says.

Mohamed followed proper travel procedures, according to the lawsuit, renewing his visitor's visa twice during his stay in Kuwait. But when he went to Kuwait's international airport last December to get another 90-day extension he waited several hours. The lawsuit says Mohamed wrote an e-mail to his brother in Virginia while he waited, saying the process was taking longer than usual. That was the last time anyone heard from him for a week, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, Mohamed says he was approached at the airport by two men who handcuffed and blindfolded him. They drove him to another location in an SUV. Mohamed claims he was beaten, tortured and interrogated over the next week. The lawsuit describes him being whipped, threatened with electrocution and questioned by captors who had private information about his family in the United States .

They also questioned him about his relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who has close ties to al Qaeda and who is believed to be in Yemen. Mohamed's lawyer says he denies any link to al-Awlaki.

Mohamed was transferred to a deportation facility in Kuwait on December 28, the lawsuit says. He used a fellow detainee's hidden cell phone and was able to contact his family and retain a CAIR attorney.

According to the lawsuit, Kuwaiti officials have told Mohamed's family they are holding him on behalf of the U.S. His lawyers say Kuwaiti officials have tried to deport Mohamed but were unable to do so because the United States had placed him on a "no-fly" list.

A U.S. official confirmed to CNN that Mohamed is on a "no-fly" list, but would not explain why.

Mohamed was visited twice by FBI agents while in detention, according to the suit. He claims the FBI agents physically intimidated him, threatened him with criminal charges and told him he would remain in detention indefinitely if he didn't speak to them. Mohamed refused to answer their questions without counsel, the lawsuit says.

Mohamed's lawyers told CNN that at the suggestion of Kuwaiti officials, his family recently bought a plane ticket for him to return to the United States. However, when the officials took him to the airport Sunday, he was not allowed onto the plane.

Mohamad's lawyers contend that the information that his interrogators had -- and the questions he was asked -- indicate it was the U.S. government who had him held and questioned. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley denied Mohamed was being detained at the behest of the United States.

Crowley told CNN Tuesday that the State Department has provided Mohamed with consular access and is committed to him having fair treatment. Crowley said the department hasn't had access to Mohamed since December.

CNN's Laurie Ure contributed to this report.