Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Not a spy nor terrorist: Just a US Muslim businessman

MISTAKEN IDENTITY A nuclear engineer from Connecticut was arrested overseas and accused of being a CIA agent, only to be detained later in the US


As a Muslim and frequent flyer, businessman Syed Maswood is used to being wrongly suspected as an Islamic terrorist. He's not used to being called a US spy.

The Connecticut nuclear engineer, whose home was raided but who never was charged in a terrorism investigation this spring, was arrested during a September business trip in the United Arab Emirates on suspicion of being a CIA and FBI informant.

He spent a night in jail before US Embassy officials won his release -- only to return to the US, where he was detained and questioned a second time by Homeland Security officials, he said.

Suspected of being a terrorist at home and a spy overseas, Maswood believes he's the victim of two forces: prejudice against Muslims in the US and distrust of Americans abroad. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said he hasn't heard of other cases like Maswood's.

Though he has been charged with no crime, Maswood, a 41-year-old US citizen and father of three, has become accustomed to airport searches. He has spent months writing government officials, demanding to know why he is searched and held when he travels.

"We have looked into the matter and determined that you will no longer encounter any automatic special attention beyond normal probabilities, upon future returns to the United States," the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote him in August. He has since carried that letter when traveling. Maswood sells radiological detection devices. He was to discuss the installation of US-mandated equipment to detect radioactive material at UAE ports.

However, when he landed in Dubai the evening of Sept. 28 his passport was flagged. He was wanted for arrest, but police would not say on what charge. He was handcuffed and taken to jail. He surrendered one of his mobile phones, but didn't tell police he had a second in his pocket.

Police searched his bag and his wallet, smiling when they found his National Republican Congressional Committee membership card.

"We found George Bush," Maswood remembers them saying.

Maswood stood in a holding cell rank with urine and excrement and surrounded by razor wire. Hiding in the bathroom, Maswood used his second mobile phone to call the US Embassy for help. The consul who took Maswood's case would not comment but e-mails from the embassy and provided by Maswood verify the events.

"They just want to get even with Americans," Maswood said. "The US has lost its moral position."

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