Yusuf Islam, who became famous in the 1970s as the pop singer Cat Stevens, left the United States on a United Airlines flight to London yesterday after being denied entry because he was on several government watch lists, U.S. officials said.
Islam was admitted into the country in May but Department of Homeland Security officials said they placed him on the no-fly list in July, barring him from entry, after government agencies received fresh intelligence related to what they said were his charitable contributions to groups with terrorist ties.
Video: The singer formerly known as Cat Stevens returned to Britain Thursday, saying he was "totally shocked" that he was barred from entering the United States.
"Yusuf Islam has been placed on government watch lists because of concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse. "More recently, the intelligence community has received information that further heightens this concern. Our job at Homeland Security is to act upon the information we receive through the intelligence community in order to keep those that might be of harm to national security out of our country."
Officials said they could not provide specifics on Islam's alleged ties to terrorists.
Messages posted on two Web sites devoted to the singer said Islam has opposed terrorist acts and spoken for peace. "He has vehemently and consistently criticized terrorist acts and has always advocated peace through his songs and his extensive humanitarian relief work" said a message posted on www.yusufislam.org.uk, which also noted that Islam has traveled many times to the United States.
Islam came to Washington in May for an interview with XM Satellite Radio and to perform for a studio audience on the "Artist Confidential" program, said Chance Patterson, a spokesman for the radio company.
On Tuesday, Islam, who lives in Britain, was aboard a London-to-Washington flight with his daughter when it was diverted to Bangor, Maine. Islam had been expecting to head on to Japan, a U.S. official said. His daughter continued aboard the United Airlines flight to Washington while Islam remained detained in Bangor by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. Yesterday, Islam was flown to Dulles International Airport, where he boarded a flight for London.
Islam had several hits in the 1970s, including "Peace Train" and "Wild World." Born Stephen Demetre Georgiou, he took on the stage name Cat Stevens but changed his name to Islam after becoming a Muslim in the late 1970s. Islam gave up performing and recording for a while, but he has performed occasionally since following the May release of a DVD featuring his 1976 concert tour. He has said he would donate proceeds from a previous CD box set to assist victims of the terrorist attacks in 2001.
Islam "is one of the most widely known and respected Muslims in the world. If this kind of thing can happen to Yusuf, who is safe?" asked Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Kamal Nawash, president of Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism, said he did not know whether Islam had any links to terrorists, but added: "How can we blame the United States when they take the initiative themselves to keep people out who have questionable support for terrorism or extremism?"
In newspaper interviews in 2000, Islam denied knowingly supporting terrorist groups.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.