Cat stevens on terrorist list
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U.S.: Cat Stevens ‘potentially linked to terrorism’
Islam convert removed from U.S.-bound flight
WASHINGTON - A London-to-Washington flight carrying Yusuf Islam — formerly known as singer Cat Stevens — was diverted and the Islam convert removed from the plane because his name was on a government terrorism watch list for allegedly donating money to the militant Palestinian group Hamas, a U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday.
United Airlines Flight 919 was en route to Dulles International Airport when Islam's name was matched to a name on the watch list, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.
The plane was met by federal agents at Maine’s Bangor International Airport around 3 p.m., Melendez said. A spokesman for the Bangor Police Department told WCSH-TV, an NBC affiliate in Portland, Maine, that Islam was driven to Boston.
‘Interviewed and denied admission’
Homeland Security Department spokesman Dennis Murphy said that Islam, who was traveling with his daughter, "was interviewed and denied admission to the United States on national security grounds.”
He said Islam would be put on the first available flight out of the country Wednesday.
Another Homeland Security Department spokesman, Brian Doyle, said that U.S. officials had information that Islam "could be potentially linked to terrorism."
"The intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further raises our concern," he said without elaborating.
But a law enforcement official, who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the United States has information indicating Islam had donated money to Hamas.
Islam was denied entry to Israel in 2000 after the authorities there accused him of supporting Hamas. The former pop star strongly denied the charges and said his charitable donations were for humanitarian causes.
A Homeland Security official said United Airlines employee missed Islam’s name on the “watch lists” in Britain and that the plane was in flight when officials found a match from the advanced passenger information sent by the airline.
Last visited U.S. in May
Islam had visited New York in May for a charity event and to promote a DVD of his 1976 MajiKat tour.
One official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said Islam, 56, was identified by the Advanced Passenger Information System, which requires airlines to send passenger information to Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center. The Transportation Security Administration then was contacted and requested that the plane land at the nearest airport, that official said.
Melendez said Islam was questioned by FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Another federal official, who is in law enforcement and spoke anonymously to The AP because of agency policy, said that after the interview, Customs officials decided to deny Islam entry into the United States.
Flight 919 continued on to Dulles after Islam was removed from the flight.
Islam, who was born Stephen Georgiou, took Cat Stevens as a stage name and had a string of hits in the 1960s and ’70s, including “Wild World” and “Morning Has Broken.” Last year he released two songs, including a re-recording of his ’70s hit “Peace Train,” to express his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Abandoned musical career
He abandoned his music career in the late 1970s and changed his name after being persuaded by orthodox Muslim teachers that his lifestyle was forbidden by Islamic law. He later became a teacher and an advocate for his religion, founding a Muslim school in London in 1983.
Islam founded Islamia Primary school in London in 1983. In 1998, it became the first Muslim school in Britain to receive government support, on the same basis as Christian and other sectarian schools.
A statement posted on a fan-supported Web site where his music is promoted said Islam being on a watch list “is certainly an error.”
“It’s also a very sad state of affairs when a man best known as a peace loving pop star can be grouped into the same category Osama Bin Laden just because of his chosen faith,” the statement said.
Islam drew some negative attention in the late 1980s when he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.” Recently, though, Islam has criticized terrorist acts, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the school seizure in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month that left more than 300 dead, nearly half of them children.
In a statement on his Web site, he wrote, “Crimes against innocent bystanders taken hostage in any circumstance have no foundation whatsoever in the life of Islam and the model example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Islam issued a statement saying: “No right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: The Quran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.