PORTLAND — An attorney for an American man who claims he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the behest of the U.S. government said Friday that his client is too afraid to try to travel back home.
The contention came at a hearing involving a lawsuit filed by Yonas Fikre, alleging the FBI and State Department demanded that he spy on a Portland mosque in 2011, then had him abused in a UAE prison when he refused.
The federal agencies have declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing litigation.
Fikre remains in Sweden, where he sought asylum after saying he was told by FBI agents that he was on the no-fly list. He also said a person who attempted to use his ticket to obtain a boarding pass in UAE was told Fikre could not fly.
At a hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, government attorneys said Fikre couldn’t claim that he suffered harm from placement on the government’s no-fly list because he hasn’t tried to fly home.
“What is missing in this claim for injunctive relief is any legitimate effort to travel to the U.S.,” said U.S. Department of Justice attorney Brigham Bowen. “This is best described as a rush to court.”
Fikre’s attorney, Tom Nelson, says his client remains scarred by his previous experience, and fears that if he did return to the U.S., he would not be permitted to leave again.
“Mr. Fikre fears for his personal safety,” Nelson said. “It’s critical (that) this court ensures Mr. Fikre won’t be subjected to these actions again.”
Fikre said he was held for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates after refusing to cooperate with Portland-based FBI agents in an interview in Sudan. The State Department confirmed previously that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi “on unspecified charges,” but said he was visited by State Department officials and showed no signs of mistreatment.
Fikre said the FBI agents named in the suit wanted him to become an informant at Portland’s largest mosque, Masjid As-Saber, and were angered when he refused. He said interrogators in Abu Dhabi later used information Fikre had given to the FBI agents in his interrogation.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown said Nelson needed to better specify the harm Fikre suffered and the specific constitutional rights that might have been violated.
Two other Oregon Muslims who worship at the mosque have also alleged they were held overseas and asked to become informants by Portland-based FBI agents. These other men have since returned to Oregon.