Florida Muslim businessman sues Homeland Security over harassment

A Central Florida Muslim businessman detained by authorities at airports and border crossings more than 30 times since June has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It’s the second such lawsuit Sadique M. Jaffer has filed in Orlando against the federal agency in almost four years, in response to what he says are baseless and harassing detentions.

Jaffer, who lives in Windermere and works in real estate and computer sales in multiple states, claims he has been detained more than 50 times since 2007 as he has traveled domestically and internationally.

Jaffer said in his latest legal filing that he drew the attention of the FBI when he filed a slander and libel lawsuit against members of a local Shia Muslim community board in 2007. Even though a local FBI agent told Jaffer’s attorney in May 2007 that his client was not a person of interest, an agent in New York nominated Jaffer to the federal watch list, the lawsuit said.

Jaffer said he has agreed to cooperate with authorities and notify the FBI if he learned of any threats emanating from the Orlando Shia Muslim community, but that did not prevent him from being detained.

Neither the FBI nor Department of Homeland Security would answer questions about Jaffer or comment on the lawsuit.

“We understand the need to protect this country from terrorists,” said Jaffer’s attorney, J. Christy Wilson III. “But we also have a constitution in this country. We have certain rights.” The constant detentions have created hardships, are embarrassing and disheartening to Jaffer, his attorney said.

According to Jaffer’s lawsuit, he was detained in August 2007 when he arrived in Houston from a business trip in Costa Rica. He was escorted off the airplane and detained for four hours, according to the suit. He was not given water, food or allowed to use the restroom and was ordered to sit and stare at a wall. “If he so much as turned his head, he was verbally abused for doing so,” Jaffer’s lawsuit says.

Dozens of detentions would follow when Jaffer traveled, and in some instances, his wife and children were detained. Jaffer’s attorney wrote several letters to authorities complaining of unwarranted detentions, but federal officers continued to stop him while traveling.

In October 2008, Jaffer and his attorney voluntarily met with FBI agents in New York, the lawsuit says. At the end of the questioning, agents told Jaffer they would initiate the process to stop the detentions, but there proved to be no immediate relief.

In April 2009, Jaffer filed suit in Orlando federal court against the Department of Homeland Security. Four months later, he was removed from the watch list, and the detentions stopped. Jaffer dropped that suit after receiving the requested relief.

Then in June 2012, Jaffer was detained while traveling from New York City to Orlando. Since then, the businessman claims, he has been detained more than 30 times.

Wilson said Jaffer does not know why he has been placed on the federal watch list again and that they have offered to meet with federal authorities. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” Wilson said. “We’re willing to talk to them … and answer their questions as he’s done before.”

Orlando Sentinel, 22 December 2012