Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Black-listed passenger driven to U.S., after plane rerouted to Canada

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Two days after Somali’s name on no-fly list forces flight change, he is mysteriously sent – by land – to the United States for further questioning

The notion that he might fly over the United States so distressed U.S. counterterrorism officials that they had his transatlantic flight reroute to Canada, just to pull him off the 150-passenger jet.

Forty-eight hours later, he was driven by border guards to Champlain, N.Y., to enter his adopted home by land. On Wednesday, U.S. agents will be picking up where Canadian agents left off, questioning the mystery man.

The saga of Abdirahman Ali Gaal, a Somali-born U.S. resident believed to be in his 30s, is far from over. The core allegations are unknown. But security officials point out that they are cracking down on Somalia-based groups operating inside North America – especially fanatics recruiting youth for an Islamist insurgency overseas.

Such considerations, it appears, are being brought to bear on the case of Mr. Gaal, whose Aeromexico flight from France to Mexico was forced to divert to Montreal on Sunday.

Mr. Gaal had a secret notoriety: Some time in the past few years, U.S. officials placed him on their no-fly list. This means he was deemed a significant threat if left to his own devices in U.S. airspace.

After the plane was rerouted to Montreal, federal agents jailed him until his transfer could take place.
“Today at 4:00 p.m., the Canada Border Services Agency turned over Abdirahman Ali Gaal to U.S. authorities,” the CBSA said Tuesday evening in a statement.

One official said this was a rapid deportation, as Mr. Gaal had committed a past offence in Canada – never defined – that rendered him forever inadmissible. This handover scuttled a scheduled detention-review hearing in Montreal on Wednesday, which was to have delved into some of the evidence.

The security jitters are based, at least in part, on the ascendancy of Somalia’s al-Shababmovement.

The Taliban-style guerrillas are recruiting youth from Europe and North America to join them in Somalia. Counterterrorism officials fear young men will return from the insurgency bringing notions of an armed anti-American jihad with them.

Believed to have been born in the 1970s, Mr. Gaal is a decade older than a typical al-Shabab recruit. He is a legal U.S. resident who appears to have split his time between East Africa and North America.

Sources say Mr. Gaal lived in Minneapolis and Seattle in the 1990s. Bankruptcy records filed in Seattle suggest that he, or a man with a very similar name, worked for a technology company before filing for bankruptcy in 2001.

One source said that just two years ago, Mr. Gaal applied for refugee status in Canada, under a different name. He left before the application was processed.

In the United States, smuggling networks are being scrutinized for sending scores of Somali asylum seekers across the Mexican border. Just last week, U.S. officials in Texas were warned to be on the lookout for a particular al-Shabab suspect taking that route.

But this was not Mr. Gaal. No charges have been filed as the investigation continues.
“Mr. Gaal, a legal permanent resident, was returned to the United States, where he is currently being questioned,” Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of HomelandSecurity, said in an e-mail.

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