U.S. set to deport former Cat Stevens to England

Government fears he has ties to Islamic militants

September 23, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The former Cat Stevens was slated to be deported to England yesterday because of U.S. government concerns that the pop singer turned Muslim activist has ties to Islamic militants.

The "Peace Train" singer was placed on the no-fly list this summer after new intelligence showed Stevens - now known by his Muslim name Yusuf Islam - had "connections to groups involved in terrorist activities," said a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second senior U.S. official said there were concerns that Islam - believed to have provided money to the militant Palestinian group Hamas - also might have visited an Islamic extremist camp in South Asia in the past. He declined to elaborate.

Islam's brother David Gordon called the charges "complete and utter rubbish."

"The man has done nothing but give money to people in need," Gordon said from Princeton, N.J. "He loves America. That's the crazy thing about all this."

The Department of Homeland Security was investigating how Islam, a British citizen, was able to board the U.S.-bound United Airlines flight. The fact that his name was on the no-fly list meant that airline officials should have stopped him at the gate in London. By the time his name raised a red flag with U.S. officials, his plane was in the air.

The Washington, D.C.-bound flight was diverted to Bangor, Maine, on Tuesday where Islam was removed and questioned by federal agents.

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said there are two layers of screening, and while Islam failed to be detected during the first, he was picked up on the second. After a plane takes off, a detailed passenger manifest is transmitted to U.S. law enforcement officials. It was at that point that U.S. officials found Islam's name on the no-fly list.

Islam had been on U.S. government watch lists for years but had been permitted to enter the country several times for tours to promote his music, officials said.

Islam became a Muslim almost three decades ago, putting his successful career as a singer and songwriter on hold. He is known in some circles as a voice for moderate Islam, heading a trust in Britain that helps fund and oversee Muslim schools.

But in 1988 he allegedly supported the death sentence by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. Islam was thrown out of Israel in 2000 amid claims he sent money to Hamas militants.

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