OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A U.S. Air Force veteran says he’s been harassed by local and federal law enforcement officers since finally being allowed to visit his mother in his native Oklahoma after twice being prevented from boarding flights from Qatar, where he lives.
Saadiq Long, a U.S. Air Force veteran who converted to Islam, said that since returning to Oklahoma on Nov. 19, FBI agents have staked out his mother’s house in McAlester, tried to speak to him there and followed him around when he was out.
“They would follow me everywhere I went, very closely,” Long, 43, told The Associated Press. “They harassed us throughout the whole (Thanksgiving) break.”
Long said an FBI agent in an unmarked vehicle also attempted to stop his sister’s vehicle on Nov. 23 by flashing his lights at her car, while Long said he was hiding in the back seat. Long said his sister drove to a police station in McAlester, where McAlester police ordered the two from the vehicle at gunpoint and handcuffed them before they were approached by an FBI agent and eventually released.
“As soon as she got out of the car, that’s when we heard the screeching noise of the police vehicles and the yelling out: ‘Put your hands up,’” Long said. “We were shocked. They gave her instructions to turn around, get out of the car slowly, keep your hands up, back toward us, lift your shirt up to see if she had a weapon.
“They put me through the same thing, of course.”
Long said he was approached by an FBI agent, who didn’t ask him any questions, but told him the matter could have been avoided if he’d agreed to speak with authorities earlier.
FBI spokesman Rick Rains in Oklahoma City confirmed he was familiar with Long, but declined to comment further.
Darrell Miller, McAlester’s assistant police chief, said his officers helped to pull over the vehicle at the request of the FBI, but denied that his officers harassed Long or his sister.
“The FBI had requested our assistance that they were trying to stop this vehicle, and the vehicle wasn’t stopping,” Miller said. “So they asked for our assistance in getting it stopped.
“After that, we turned it over to the FBI.”
Long, who grew up and graduated from high school in McAlester before joining the Air Force in 1987, converted to Islam in the late 1990s while stationed in Turkey. After getting out of the Air Force, he said he traveled throughout the Middle East and lived in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where he currently teaches English and works as an interpreter for a local trading company. He had not returned to the U.S. since 2001.
After learning earlier this year that his mother was suffering from congestive heart failure, he booked a flight to Oklahoma in April but was told by airport officials in Qatar that he wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane until he got clearance from the U.S. embassy there.
Long said he tried unsuccessfully for several months to work with the embassy in Qatar and U.S. transportation officials to get clearance to fly.
“Nobody came out and told me I was on the no-fly list,” Long said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration referred questions about the no-fly list to the FBI.
After getting in contact with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Long tried again to board a plane in Qatar on Nov. 8, but was told by airline officials that he couldn’t be issued a boarding pass.
“I was very frustrated. I was more sad for my mom, because she was looking forward to me coming and being home for the holidays. She actually thought she would pass away before she saw me again,” Long said.
Long’s attorney with CAIR, Gadeir Abbas, finally was notified by an official with the Department of Justice on Nov. 14 that he would be able to book a flight after Nov. 15, said Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter. Long flew to the U.S. on Nov. 19.
Long said he has no idea why he was prevented from flying or why he’s being targeted by the FBI.
“I don’t know, really,” Long said. “Maybe my name has been confused or matches someone else’s name. They won’t tell me anything.”
Soltani said CAIR plans to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the matter.