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After no-fly ordeal, Libyan-American ponders unanswered questions

Libyan-American businessman Jamal Tarhuni, who lives in Oregon, and his family talk about waiting a month for him to come home after he was turned away from his return flight from Libya and questioned by the FBI.

Jamal Tarhuni is now home, but the questions surrounding his unexplained month-long exile in North Africa remain unanswered. 

Tarhuni, a 55-year-old Libyan-American businessman, was reunited with his wife and four children in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, ending an ordeal in which he was barred by the U.S. from flying home and questioned at length by the FBI. 

It is unclear why the agency waylaid Tarhuni, and it is unclear whether he faces more scrutiny. He and his attorney presume he is on the U.S. government’s “no-fly” list — meaning he would be barred from boarding any domestic or international flight that enters U.S. airspace. The FBI and State Department have refused comment on his case, citing privacy and security, and both agencies consistently decline to confirm or deny whether specific names are on the list.

The ordeal faced by Tarhuni and his fellow Oregonian Libyan-American, Mustafa Elogbi, 60, who remains stuck in Tunisia for another week at least, is more common for U.S. citizens than it seems — particularly for those who are Muslim or of Arab descent, said Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations who has been involved in Tarhuni’s case and many other apparent “no-fly” cases.

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“There is a constant stream of despicable tales,” said Abbas. “It’s more common that we hear from people and they don’t want to go public. When your own government tells you you’re too dangerous to fly, there’s a palpable fear of retaliation. And it’s really an expectation that people on the no-fly list have that something more onerous is coming down the road.” 

Tarhuni decided when he was stuck in Tunis that he would publicly challenge the FBI actions — which he believes were unconstitutional and unjustifiable. He said Tuesday that he intends to continue to seek publicity and generate discussion of the “no fly” issue. 

There are two ongoing legal cases that challenge the government's authority to use the no-fly list, said Abbas. 

"These (cases) are going to take years, and in the meantime, these are human tragedies," he added. 

In the accompanying video, shot on Tuesday at their home in Tigard, Ore., just outside Portland, Tarhuni, his wife, Nariman Samed, and daughter Lina discuss the personal impact the incident had on the family, their uncertainty about the future and how they intend to move forward.

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