Cat Stevens Calls U.S. Deportation 'Ridiculous'
Sept 23, 2004
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Yusuf Islam, the pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens, returned to Britain Thursday after his deportation from the United States over "potential" terrorism links sparked a diplomatic row.
"The whole thing is totally ridiculous," Islam, 57, said on arrival at London's Heathrow airport. "Half of me wants to smile, half of me wants to growl."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw raised the issue with Secretary of State Colin Powell in person at the United Nations. Straw "expressed concern that this action should not have been taken," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Powell told reporters: "Our Homeland Security Department and intelligence agencies found some information concerning his activities that they felt under our law required him to be placed on a watch list and therefore denied him entry."
Islam, who changed his name after converting to the Muslim faith in the 1970s, was traveling with his daughter on a United Airlines flight Tuesday from London to Washington when American officials diverted it 600 miles to Bangor, Maine.
"It's crazy," Islam said as he was mobbed by reporters at Heathrow. "Everybody knows me from my charitable work and now there have to be explanations, but I'm glad to be home."
Asked if he felt victimised, he added: "Absolutely. But you know, for God's sake, people make mistakes. I just hope they have made a big mistake.
"I wasn't handcuffed or anything like that. They treated me very well," he added. "A lot of security officers are very pleased because they got my autograph."
U.S. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle said on Wednesday that Islam was deported after his name turned up on U.S. "no fly" lists.
"Why is he on the watch lists? Because of his activities that could be potentially linked to terrorism. The intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further raises our concern," Doyle said.
A law enforcement official said the United States had information that the singer, who last visited the United States in May, had donated money to the militant Islamic group Hamas.
Powell said Washington had no criminal case against him. "But it is the procedure that we have been using to know who is coming into our country, know their backgrounds and interests, and see whether we believe it is appropriate for them to come in."
A leading Arab-American group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has written to President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asking them to explain why Islam was barred.
UK Muslim leaders were outraged. "The United States is shutting down its house, building walls around itself," said Anas Altikriti, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain.
Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the saga will make Muslims "wonder who else, which other moderate educationalists or community leaders are on these U.S. watch lists."
Islam was denied entry to Israel in 2000 after authorities there accused him of supporting Hamas. He denied it and said his charitable donations were for humanitarian causes.
Among charities he has supported are children affected by war in Bosnia and Iraq as well as victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against America, which he condemned.
Born Steven Demeter Georgiou in July 1947 to a Swedish mother and a Greek Cypriot father, he changed his name to Cat Stevens when he entered the music world.
He had a string of hits in the early 1970s including "Peace Train," "Moonshadow,," "Morning has Broken," and "Wild World" before converting to Islam in 1977.