US, Kuwait, and United Airlines Heading for Anti-Terrorism Clash?

Gulet Mohamed in detention in Kuwait. | Photo: Mohed Mohamed.

UPDATE, 6:00 p.m. EST Sunday: Gulet Mohamed did not make it on to his flight, his lawyer says. Count that as a win for the US government, UA, and the no-fly list, and a loss for the Kuwaitis (and Mohamed and his family, of course).

Original Post: There’s a looming confrontation between the United States, Kuwait, and United Airlines over a Kuwaiti attempt to deport to the US an American teenager, Gulet Mohammed, who has been detained in the Arab nation for several weeks and reportedly questioned by the FBI about terrorism. (His relatives and lawyer in the United States say he was beaten while in Kuwaiti custody.) Kuwaiti authorities plan to deport Mohamed, whom they have detained for several weeks, on Monday morning, they told Mohamed’s family on Saturday.

Kuwaiti officials hope to force Mohamed onto United Airlines Flight 981, a direct flight from Kuwait to Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC, despite the fact that US authorities have reportedly placed Mohamed on the federal no-fly list. (Mother Jones has obtained a copy of Mohamed’s receipt that confirms he is booked on the flight.) The key flash points will be around midnight Kuwaiti time (4:00 p.m. EST) on Sunday, when Kuwaiti authorities try to place Mohamed on the flight, and around 6:00 a.m. EST on Monday, when the flight is expected to approach US airspace. “We have high hopes that Gulet will be back in Washington soon, God willing,” Gulet’s older brother Mohed told Mother Jones in a phone interview from Kuwait on Saturday. 

Mother Jones placed requests for comment with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security (which manages the no-fly list), and the White House. The State Department declined to comment, and DHS and the White House said they would first have to check on the matter. A United Airlines media representative also said the airline would have to review the situation before saying anything. A call to the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington was not  returned. (You can follow the latest developments in this story by following me on Twitter: @nickbaumann. This post will be updated with any major developments.)

Mohamed, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, was first arrested and detained by Kuwaiti authorities last month. He says he was beaten and otherwise abused in custody, and asked questions about Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda propagandist who is supposedly hiding out in Yemen. Mohamed did visit Yemen and Somalia in 2009, but his lawyer and family maintain he was getting in touch with his roots and learning Arabic, and he told the New York Times,I despise terrorism.”

Mohamed is just the latest in a series of Muslim Americans who have been detained by foreign authorities while abroad, interrogated by the FBI, and denied the chance to return home because of their presence on the no-fly list. On Wednesday, Mohamed’s lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, filed a complaint with the Justice Department, asking the agency to investigate Mohamed’s charges that the FBI has repeatedly questioned him in Kuwaiti custody despite his continued requests for counsel and his invocation of his right to remain silent. Mohamed also says he was beaten by Kuwaiti authorities. Mohamed, his lawyer, and his family have suggested that Mohamed was originally detained at the behest of the United States—a charge the State Department has denied.