Awais Sajjad, a lawful permanent U.S. resident living in the New York area, learned he was on the no-fly list in September 2012 after he tried to board a flight to Pakistan at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was turned back.
At the airport, FBI agents questioned Sajjad, a Muslim, before releasing him. But they later returned with an offer. In exchange for working for them, the FBI could provide him with U.S. citizenship and compensation. The FBI, the agents reminded Sajjad, also had the power to decide who was on the no-fly list.
When he refused, the FBI agents “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” according to an amended lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Sajjad and three other men, accuses the United States of violating their rights by placing or keeping them on the no-fly list after they declined to spy on local Muslim communities in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska.
“The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York. “The practice borders on extortion.”
The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project, which Kassem supervises, and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit on behalf of the men.
The FBI declined to comment Tuesday. But U.S. officials have in the past insisted that the process used to place individuals on the no-fly list is legal and well founded and relies on credible intelligence.