WASHINGTON—An American Muslim returned home Saturday after an odyssey through jails in three East African countries that began with his arrest on fleeing war-ravaged Somalia and included three months of imprisonment without charges in Ethiopia.
Amir Mohamed Meshal, 24, of Tinton Falls, N.J., flew into New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was first detained and questioned before being reunited with his parents, said Jonathan Hafetz, a family attorney.
FBI officials, who interviewed Meshal while he was in Kenyan and Ethiopian custody, believe he went to Somalia to fight for a radical Islamic movement. But they declined to charge him with any crime.
Human rights groups and the Meshal family attorney questioned whether Meshal was held as part of a policy by the administration—whose detention practices are under congressional scrutiny, especially at Guantanamo Bay prison—to have other countries hold terrorism suspects.
Hafetz, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, has demanded a congressional inquiry into the case.
"I think serious questions certainly remain, but for the moment, the family is just happy to have their son back," said Hafetz. "The family is thrilled that their son is free after four months of prolonged detention without due process and are happy this ordeal is behind them."
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said the State Department arranged Meshal's flight home, and that it was "very pleased" that he was released.
Meshal, who was released from prison on Friday to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, and his father, Mohamed Meshal, a naturalized American citizen from Egypt, were unavailable for comment.
Meshal was among some 160 people captured in mid-January in southern Somalia as they fled a U.S.-backed Ethiopian offensive that removed from power in Mogadishu a coalition of Islamic militias, known as the Council of Islamic Courts.
The Bush administration accused the Courts of being an al-Qaida front and sheltering three senior followers of Osama bin Laden wanted for terrorist attacks.
The detainees, swept up in an operation closely coordinated between the United States, Kenya and Ethiopia, were first incarcerated in Nairobi.
FBI agents interrogated Meshal before he was given access to a U.S. consular official. Other detainees and Kenyan human rights activities said that Meshal told them that he was threatened with torture unless admitted belonging to al-Qaida, a charge the FBI denies.
While in Kenyan custody, Meshal told investigators that he was briefly in an al-Qaida camp in Somalia and tried firing a gun at foreign troops as he was being captured, but he denied being a fighter or undergoing military training, according to an account given to McClatchy Newspapers in March on condition the source remained anonymous.
Kenyan authorities sent Meshal and some 80 other detainees back to Somalia without a court hearings between Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, a decision the FBI and the State Department said they learned about after it occurred.
In Somalia, Meshal was turned over to Ethiopian forces and sent to an Ethiopian intelligence service prison in Addis Ababa, where FBI agents resumed interrogating him.
His whereabouts remained secret until disclosed by McClatchy Newspapers in mid-March. It was only after media disclosure that U.S. diplomats were given access to Meshal.
Meshal's treatment contrasts with that of Daniel Joseph Maldonado, an American convert to Islam with whom Meshal traveled to Somalia late last year. Maldonado also was incarcerated in Kenya after being captured fleeing the Ethiopian offensive.
Maldonado admitted to FBI agents that he underwent military training with al Qaida. He was flown back to Texas and pleaded guilty on April 20 to receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.