Suit claims agents harassing Muslims at U.S. border

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Some Detroit-area Muslims have been held at gunpoint, handcuffed and repeatedly harassed about their religion when returning to the U.S. from Canada, according to a lawsuit that seeks to bar government agents from asking questions about religion.

The Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said border agents and the FBI are violating the First Amendment and a 1993 federal law that guarantees freedom to practice religion.

"Since the tragedy of 9/11, we have seen a steady erosion of civil liberties of Muslim-Americans," CAIR director Dawud Walid said last Friday, a day after a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Detroit.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the allegations but said profiling based on race or religion is strictly prohibited. The lawsuit also names the FBI director and two agents. The FBI declined to comment.

Two of the four plaintiffs, Ali Suleiman Ali of Canton Township and Wissam Charafeddine of Dearborn, said they have been detained for hours on the U.S. side of the Detroit-Canada tunnel or at an international bridge in Port Huron, Mich. Agents, they said, wanted to know about their religious practices and where they worship.

Attorney Shereef Akeel said it's hard to imagine a Jew crossing the border and being asked about the Sabbath or a Roman Catholic quizzed about praying the rosary.

"It's really persecution. They're targeting a group," he said.

According to the lawsuit, Kheireddine Bouzid, 24, of Ypsilanti has been stopped at the border at least five times since 2008 by agents with their guns drawn.

Charafeddine, 35, described the interrogations as "psychological torture." He said he hasn't crossed the border since 2010 to spare his family and, as a result, has missed weddings and funerals.

The lawsuit asks U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn to bar the government from questioning Muslims about their faith.

Ali, a 64-year-old native of Ghana, is an imam, or Islamic spiritual leader, in suburban Detroit. He said he was last detained in December while returning to the U.S. from Toronto.

"I was shocked. Why do they handcuff me? I am not a criminal," Ali said.

Published: Tue, Apr 17, 2012