American To Be Freed By Ethiopia Faces Hurdle

By Stephanie McCrummen and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 13, 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, April 12 -- A U.S. citizen arrested in Somalia and held without charge in a secret Ethiopian prison was set to be released and flown back to the United States as early as Friday. But State Department officials booking his flight discovered that his name had been placed on a no-fly list at the request of the FBI and that no airline would take him, U.S. officials said.

The FBI has no plans to charge Amir Meshal, 24, and did not inform the State Department that his name had been placed on the list, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue remains unresolved.

"Clearly, there had been a hitch," said an official involved in efforts to return Meshal to his family in Tinton Falls, N.J.

Representatives from the departments of State and Justice and the FBI met Thursday to figure out why Meshal's name was on the list and how to remove it so he could go home. The Department of Homeland Security's no-fly list contains the names of thousands of people deemed security risks.

Meshal was among dozens of people who headed toward the Kenyan border in January after an Ethiopian military campaign that ousted a Islamic movement in Somalia.

Meshal and several others were arrested by the Kenyan military, then held by Kenyan, Somali and finally Ethiopian authorities, during which time he was questioned by FBI officials without an attorney or U.S. consular official present, officials have said. It is unclear why Meshal was in Somalia.

Ethiopia has been holding without charge at least 41 people seized in Somalia.

The United States and Ethiopia have accused some of Somalia's Islamic leaders of having ties to terrorism, which the leaders have denied.

The FBI has carried out interrogations of dozens of the detainees in Ethiopia's secret prison.

FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko confirmed that there were no charges against Meshal, and State Department officials said the FBI told them that no charges were pending.

"The FBI interviewed Meshal in Kenya, didn't come up with any reasons to charge him and, as far as I know, they haven't thought of anything new that he could be charged with here," one of the officials said.

Meshal's attorney, Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, called the case "another step in this continuing travesty where the rights of an American citizen are being trampled on."

Meshal still was scheduled to go before a military tribunal here Saturday, but his case could be heard Friday. His mother, Fifi Meshal, said by telephone that the family had not received word on whether or when he would be coming home.

Linzer reported from New York.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company