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'Watch'-Listed Singer Deported Back to Britain

The former Cat Stevens was denied entry into the U.S. due to potential terrorism ties, officials say. A Muslim group protests the action.

September 23, 2004|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Yusuf Islam, known as singer Cat Stevens during the 1960s and 1970s, was deported to Britain on Wednesday evening after he was refused entry to the United States because of what authorities termed "activities that could potentially be related to terrorism."

The United Airlines flight on which Islam was traveling Tuesday from London to Washington was diverted to Bangor, Maine, after it was discovered that he was aboard. Islam was removed from the flight, which continued on to Washington.

His 21-year-old daughter, who was traveling with him, was allowed to enter the country.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security stood by the decision to keep Islam, a British citizen, out of the country, despite criticism from Muslim civil rights groups and the insistence of his family that he was a humanitarian activist with no ties to terrorism.

"He had been placed on the watch list because of concerns about activities that could potentially be related to terrorism," said Brian Doyle, a department spokesman. "Also, more recently, the intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further heightens the concern over Mr. Islam."

Department officials refused to discuss the allegations against the singer. They did say he was not arrested or charged with any crime. Islam was escorted Wednesday from Bangor to Washington Dulles International Airport, where he boarded a United flight to London's Heathrow Airport.

During a news conference Wednesday, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called Islam's detention "Kafka-esque." In a statement, the organization described Islam, 56, as "one of the most widely known and respected personalities in the Muslim world."

"He has a long history of promoting peace and reconciliation and condemning terrorism," the statement said.

The singer's brother and business manager, David Gordon, who lives in Princeton, N.J., told Associated Press that Islam's "only work, his only mind-set, is humanitarian causes."

"He just wants to be an ambassador for peace," he added.

The government is trying to determine why Islam was allowed on the plane by United, whose employees were supposed to compare the passenger manifest to the watch list.

"Currently, Homeland Security is working with United to determine how he was allowed to board, since he was on numerous watch lists," said Doyle.

The Sept. 11 commission has recommended that the government take over from the airlines the job of administering the watch lists, and the Transportation Security Administration is in the process of making the changes.

The law under which Islam was prevented from entering the country predates the Sept. 11 attacks and gives U.S. officials wide latitude to keep out individuals they believe are associated with terrorism. In addition to overt acts of violence or conspiracy, a foreigner can be excluded for providing any material support, including funds, to a terrorist organization.

More broadly, authorities can bar anyone who has used a "position of prominence" to "endorse or espouse terrorist activity, or to persuade others to support terrorist activity or a terrorist organization" in a way that "undermines United States efforts to reduce or eliminate terrorist activities."

Last year, an article in GQ magazine linked Islam to donations that ended up in the hands of the son of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, a radical Islamic cleric who was convicted in a plot to bomb New York City landmarks in the mid-1990s.

In July 2000, Islam was deported from Israel hours after he arrived. An Israeli newspaper, Maariv, reported at the time that during a 1988 trip to Israel, Islam had delivered tens of thousands of dollars to the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Islam has said he has never knowingly supported the activities of any terrorist organization. He donated some of the royalties from the sale of a boxed set of his albums to the Sept. 11 Fund, which aids families of victims of the terrorist hijackings.

In Los Angeles, Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council called "preposterous" allegations that Islam had contributed to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. She said the council had presented Islam with its media award two years ago for his extensive philanthropic work.

"We're horrified that someone of this stature and prominence was treated so disreputably," she said. "It's bewildering."

The singer, born Stephen Georgiou in London, took the stage name Cat Stevens during the 1960s. In the late 1970s, he shocked fans by converting to Islam and abandoning his popular music career, although he has released some songs in recent years. He last visited the United States two months ago, according to his website. A DVD of his 1976 Majikat concert tour is due for release in the United States on Friday.

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