A recently filed case on behalf of four American Muslims in a US district of New York, has accused the US attorney general, Eric Holder, the FBI director, James Comey, the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, and two dozen FBI agents of creating an atmosphere where innocent Muslims are forbidden from flying.
The motive apparently was so that the FBI can use this as leverage to get them to snitch on their communities.
In recent years Muslim community leaders in the US have stated that they feel law enforcement at times considers them a target.
Material demonising Muslims and Islam has been present in FBI counter-terrorism training, which the bureau has conceded was inappropriate.
The New York police department recently shut down a unit tasked with spying on Muslim businesses, mosques and community centres in New York and New Jersey.
The lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.
“This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect overpolicing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.
The no-fly list is among the most opaque post-9/11 measures.
It is maintained by the FBI and implemented at airports by the Department of Homeland Security.
Few know they’ve been placed on it, and those who do face a complicated redress process to have themselves removed. The new lawsuit alleges that the opacity contributes to watchlist abuse.
According to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Centre, which maintains the list, there were approximately 16,000 people, fewer than 500 of them Americans, on the no-fly list as of September 2011.
A larger pool of data that feeds the no-fly list and other government watchlists, known as the Terrorist Screening Database, contemporaneously contained records of 420,000 people. Famously it included Nelson Mandela until 2008. The government’s policy is to not to confirm or deny someone’s placement upon a watchlist.
Several earlier lawsuits have attempted to get people off the no-fly list.
In February Rahinah Ibrahim became the first since 9/11 to win such a case, after demonstrating that the FBI adder her name by mistake. She had been unable to fly since 2004.