A 19-year-old U.S. citizen from Alexandria has been detained in Kuwait and says that he was tortured by security agents who questioned him about his travels in Yemen and Somalia.
Gulet Mohamed, who moved with his family from Somalia to the United States when he was a toddler, was detained last month at an airport in Kuwait when he went there to renew his visa, said Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who is representing Mohamed. He says that Kuwaiti officials detained Mohamed on behalf of the United States.
Abbas said that Mohamed told him that over the course of a week, he was repeatedly struck in the face while blindfolded and handcuffed and that he was beaten with a stick. Abbas said he has spoken to his client by phone.
Abbas said Mohamed was asked whether he knew Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S.-born cleric and propagandist for an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
Aulaqi has been linked to a number of attempted terrorist attacks on the United States and was in contact with the Army officer facing murder charges in the Fort Hood shooting. The Obama administration has placed Aulaqi on a capture or kill list.
Mohamed left Virginia to study Arabic in Yemen in March 2009 but stayed there only three weeks at the urging of his family before continuing on to Somalia, where he lived with relatives, said his 26-year-old sister, Zahra.
She said her brother moved to Kuwait nine months ago to continue his studies and stayed there with an uncle. On two previous occasions, Mohamed had renewed his visa at Kuwait International Airport without incident, his attorney said.
Among other questions, Abbas said, Kuwaitis asked Mohamed about an encounter at a mosque in Northern Virginia.
“The manner of his detention and the questions asked of Mr. Mohamed indicate to him that he was taken into custody at the behest of the United States,” Abbas wrote in a letter to the Justice Department in which he called for a civil rights investigation of Mohamed’s detention.
Abbas said that three FBI agents visited Mohamed over the weekend at a Kuwaiti detention center. They told him he would remain in custody for a long time unless he cooperated, Abbas said. He said Mohamed told the agents that he had a lawyer and didn’t wish to speak to them without counsel.
An FBI spokesman said the agency would have no comment. The Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Mohamed has been placed on the no-fly list, meaning he has no way of getting home even if he is released.
Civil liberties groups say Mohamed’s case, reported by the New York Times, is part of a pattern in which American citizens are detained abroad and barred from flying to the United States so they can be questioned overseas by U.S. agents without counsel.
The ACLU has sued the federal government on behalf of 17 U.S. citizens and permanent residents who were unable to fly within or into the United States because they were on the no-fly list. That lawsuit is ongoing.
At a news conference Thursday, Zahra Mohamed described her brother as an “innocent little kid.”
“What happened to our Constitution?” she said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.