SALISBURY -- Jabbar Hamoudi, age 30, sits in a cell all to himself in the county jail here, three days after he was handcuffed, interrogated and imprisoned for no other apparent reason except that he is from Iraq.
Mr. Hamoudi was removed by Immigration and Naturalization Services officials Wednesday night from the containership M. V. Al Wattyah, which was docked at the South Locust Point terminal in Baltimore. He was a radio operator aboard the vessel, which is owned by the United Arab Shipping Co.,
Mr. Hamoudi was fingerprinted and photographed at a Baltimore police station, where he spent Wednesday night, he said, and was driven by van Thursday morning to the Wicomico County Detention Center, which has a contract to hold prisoners for the INS.
Thomas M. DiBiagio, an attorney with Semmes, Bowen & Semmes representing United Arab, said an INS official at the county prison told him Mr. Hamoudi would be flown today to Savannah, Ga., where the Al Wattyah is headed. After Savannah, the ship will head for Valencia, Spain, and then on to the Middle East, Mr. DiBiagio said.
At the county prison, Mr. Hamoudi said, officials brought him to the captain's salon, asked him whether he was Iraqi, cuffed his hands and told him he was under arrest.
"Even the captain was astonished when they said that," he recounted before prison officials removed a reporter from a room 10 minutes into an interview.
John Ryan, general manager in Baltimore for the Kerr Steamship Co. Inc., the local agent for United Arab, said his company and the shipping line, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, were well aware that Mr. Hamoudi was from Iraq and had notified officials in each U.S. port on
the Al Wattyah's schedule.
Mr. Ryan said the Al Wattyah left the Middle East before Jan. 16, when the gulf war began. In New York, he said, INS and Coast Guard officials decided to keep Mr. Hamoudi on board, under the watch of a private security guard. Mr. Ryan said the same arrangement was to apply for Baltimore.
Mr. Hamoudi said two FBI agents questioned him extensively but "politely" on board the ship in New York and were satisfied that he posed no undue security risk.
In Baltimore, however, seven INS officials boarded the ship late Wednesday night, Mr. Hamoudi said, and placed him under what he considered to be arrest. Louis Nardi, acting deputy director of the INS district office in Baltimore, said, "We're not in a position to discuss [the case]." And Walter Cadman, the district director, did not return calls to his office yesterday.
Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project in New York, said the action appeared to have no legal justification. "Selective enforcement of laws based on people's nationality is just as impermissible as selective enforcement of laws based on people's race," he said.