SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a leader of a mosque in Salt Lake City sued five directors of federal agencies Friday in an attempt to allow the imam to return home to Utah.
Lawyers for Imam Yussuf Abdi, a U.S. citizen since 2010, say their client was barred from flying out of Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday, because he has been placed on the U.S. government's no-fly list.
The complaint filed in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court Friday says the government has no reason to believe Abdi is a threat. It contends the U.S. is violating his constitutional rights by discriminating against him based on his race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.
Abdi was in his home country this week in order to bring his wife and five children to live with him in Utah, said his attorney Jim McConkie.
Federal Judge Dee Benson did not immediately make a decision Friday afternoon; McConkie said he expected Benson to approve the request for a temporary restraining order late Friday or Monday.
Abdi was told by an airline worker in Nairobi Tuesday that the U.S. would not allow him to return, McConkie said. His attorneys have taken that to mean he is on the government's terrorist watch list.
"That's what they're saying at the airport. The U.S. won't let him in. So he must be on a no-fly list," McConkie said. His wife and kids had permission to fly to Utah, but the family decided to wait to travel together. Abdi has been allowed to take a connecting flight to Qatar, but not all the way home.
Some time in 2014, Abdi was placed on the federal terror watch list under a classification that allowed him to fly after extra security measures, his attorneys said in court filings.
For the past three years, his attorneys wrote, he underwent "prolonged searches and questioning every time he traveled by air."
Abdi filed a redress request with the Department of Homeland Security in 2016 and received a response in May 2017, but his status did not change, according to court documents.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C., also is backing Abdi's request, and maintains he has never has been charged with a crime.
Abdi, who leads the Madina Masjid mosque in Salt Lake City, is absent from his mosque during Ramadan, Islam's holy month. He was planning to lead a hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, in August.
The suit names Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI; Christopher Piehota, director of the Terrorism Screening Center; Huban Gowadia, acting TSA administrator; Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs; and Nicholas Rasmussen, National Counterterrorism Center director.
Sandra Yi, the FBI spokeswoman in Salt Lake City, said she can't comment on pending court cases involving the agency.
Contributing: Paul Nelson