Man who caused grounding of transatlantic flight faces loss of U.S. residency
Abdirahman Ali Gaal will be sent back to his native Somalia on immigration technicalities
By Colin Freeze
The Globe and Mail, June 2, 2010
The man whose presence on the U.S. no-fly list forced a transatlantic flight to reroute to Montreal is to face proceedings to strip him of his U.S. residency status and send him back to his native Somalia, U.S. officials say.
The decision to deal with Abdirahman Ali Gaal on immigration technicalities raises questions as to whether there was any substance to the terrorism fears that led to the rapid and drastic precautions taken in the case against him.
Relatives of the man describe him as a hapless, though politically outspoken, taxi cab driver, a father of five who had recently sojourned to West Africa to study Islam.
Immigration law experts suggest that, despite the strange optics of his unusually quick removal, his transfer from Canada to the United States could have been done in compliance with all laws.
The case against Mr. Gaal, currently at the Clinton County jail in upstate New York, is playing out with the rapidity of a daily soap opera.
On Sunday, his presence on the U.S. no-fly list led a flight from France to Mexico to divert to Montreal, where he was arrested before the plane was allowed to resume its flight.
On Tuesday, acting with unusual haste, Canadian border guards drove him to upstate New York, scotching a hearing as they handed him over to U.S. counterparts.
Mr. Gaal apparently made some damaging admissions during lawyer-less interrogations south of the border.
Mr. Gaal was returned to the United States yesterday where he was questioned by [Department of Homeland Security] officials, said Matt Chandler, a DHS spokesman. In the course of that interview process, he was determined to be inadmissible to the United States, and is currently being detained pending immigration proceedings.
Mr. Gaal, who has a Canadian wife, had legally resided in the United States since the 1990s, mostly in Seattle. A couple of years ago, however, for unclear reasons he applied for asylum in Canada. After he failed to get that, he left for Africa.
It is the failed asylum bid and not any formal terrorism allegations that are now causing abundant problems for Mr. Gaal.
Sources say he fraudulently applied for refugee status in Canada in 2008. U.S. officials feel this obviates his legal residency status, and now plan to send him to Somalia.
This is consistent with U.S. practices. For the last decade, Washington has shown a willingness to use immigration laws to deal with the cases of suspected Islamic extremists if no crimes can be proven.
It appears that, while living in the United States, Mr. Gaal triggered sufficient suspicions to get on the U.S. no-fly list, but nothing to initiate a criminal complaint.
This is crazy, the man's brother, Abdifatah Ali Gaal, said in an interview.
I don't know what he's done, he said. Maybe its his outspoken words.
My brother is a Muslim, last I checked it wasn't a crime.
The sibling declined to discuss the specifics of what Mr. Gaal might have said or why the U.S. government would have been listening in on him.
He said he didn't know his younger brother's specific political views, but suggested he opposed U.S. invasions of Muslim lands. Do you know anyone who says [the U.S.] shouldn't be in Iraq? Abdifatah Ali Gaal asked rhetorically.
The older Mr. Gaal said he didn't know how his jailed brother felt about al-Shabab, a militant Somali group whose recruiting activities in the United States and Canada are now drawing considerable scrutiny from counterterrorism agents.
But, No. 1, he has not been to East Africa in the last 10 years, said the sibling, who worries for his brother's fate if sent back to Somalia.
He did say his brother had recently sojourned to West Africa, to study Islam.
While his brother was in the desert nation of Mauritania, the older sibling said, he was visited by local police.
So, Abdirahman Ali Gaal went to the U.S. embassy and asked if there were any security concerns surrounding him. The reply from officials, according to the older brother, was that there were none.
Somalia's al-Shabab group, black listed as a terrorist entity by Canada and the United States, does not operate in West Africa. The biggest terror threat in that part of the continent is al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, or AQIM, a group that famously kidnapped two Canadian diplomats two years ago.
There are no known allegations that Abdirahman Ali Gaal has ties to either group, though his travel plans did coincide with specific U.S. government warnings of a Shabab militant crossing into the United States from Mexico.
On Sunday, May 30, Mr. Gaal boarded an Aeromexico flight from France to Mexico that was poised to transit through U.S. air space.
Mid-flight, the jet was redirected to Montreal, where Mr. Gaal was arrested.
Two days later, Canadian authorities handed him over to the United States.
The rapidity of the removal surprised many observers, who are more accustomed to a relatively ponderous Canadian system where deportations take years.
However, there is an apparent veneer of legality, in the case at hand, said Lorne Waldman, a prominent Toronto immigration lawyer. He stressed he had no direct knowledge of the case, but said that a scenario laid out by The Globe and Mail made sense.
Essentialy, if Mr. Gaal was previously declared inadmissible to Canada for a failed refugee claim, he wouldn't be entitled to a second round of hearings.
Under Canadian regulations, border guards have the discretionary power to send an inadmissible person back to either his country of origin, his point of origin, or his last known country of residence.
In Mr. Gaal's case, federal authorities felt his last country of residence, the United States, was the most suitable place.
He is currently being questioned. And oddly, the allegedly bogus refugee claim in Canada is poised to be the substance of proceedings to strip him of U.S. status and send him back to Somalia.
It seems unlikely that the specific grounds that gave rise to fears of terrorist activity will be delved into further.
U.S. officials take custody of man removed from flight
The Canadian Press, June 2, 2010
Montreal A man whose presence on a transcontinental flight last weekend caused the plane to be grounded in Montreal has been abruptly shipped to the United States.
Abdirahman Ali Gaal is now being questioned by American security officials. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirms Gaal was handed over to them by Canadian officials Tuesday.
'Mr. Gaal, a legal permanent resident (of the U.S.), was returned to the United States where he is currently being questioned by DHS,' department spokesman Matt Chandler wrote in an email.
The man had been scheduled to appear before Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board Wednesday morning in Montreal.
But the Canada Border Services Agency said that, on Tuesday at 4 p.m., it turned him over to U.S. authorities.
Gaal had been held since the weekend at an immigration detention centre, as he was declared inadmissible to Canada.
Gaal was originally detained on an Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico City on Sunday afternoon.
The flight made a sudden stop in Canada after American officials asked that it be diverted away from the U.S.
Gaal was apparently on a U.S. watch list.
Those who witnessed Gaal's arrest on Sunday's Aeromexico flight said he offered no resistance when six police officers approached his seat.
Brother defends man on U.S. no-flywatch list
By Graeme Hamilton and Stewart Bell
National Post, June 1, 2010