Cat Stevens Gets Plane Diverted

The Former Cat Stevens Gets Plane Diverted

A London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Maine on Tuesday when it was discovered passenger Yusuf Islam – formerly known as singer Cat Stevens – was on a government watch list and barred from entering the country, federal officials said. United Airlines Flight 919 was en route to Dulles International Airport when the match was made between a passenger and a name on the watch list, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. The plane was met by federal agents at Maine’s Bangor International Airport around 3 p.m., Melendez said. Homeland Security Department spokesman Dennis Murphy identified the passenger as Islam. “He was interviewed and denied admission to the United States on national security grounds,” Murphy said, and would be put on the first available flight out of the country Wednesday. Officials had no details about why the peace activist might be considered a risk to the United States. Islam had visited New York in May to promote a DVD of his 1976 MajiKat tour.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Islam, 56, was identified by the Advanced Passenger Information System, which requires airlines to send passenger information to Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center. The Transportation Security Administration then was contacted and requested that the plane land at the nearest airport, that official said. Melendez said Islam was questioned by FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Another federal official, who is in law enforcement and spoke anonymously because of agency policy, said that after the interview, Customs officials decided to deny Islam entry into the United States. Flight 919 eventually continued on to Dulles after Islam was removed from the flight.

Islam, who was born Stephen Georgiou, took Cat Stevens as a stage name and had a string of hits in the 1960s and ’70s, including “Wild World” and “Morning Has Broken.” Last year he released two songs, including a re-recording of his ’70s hit “Peace Train,” to express his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. He abandoned his music career in the late 1970s and changed his name after being persuaded by orthodox Muslim teachers that his lifestyle was forbidden by Islamic law. He later became a teacher and an advocate for his religion, founding a Muslim school in London in 1983.

Islam drew some negative attention in the late 1980s when he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.” Recently, though, Islam has criticized terrorist acts, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the school seizure in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month that left more than 300 dead, nearly half of them children. In a statement on his Web site, he wrote, “Crimes against innocent bystanders taken hostage in any circumstance have no foundation whatsoever in the life of Islam and the model example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.” After the Sept. 11 attacks, Islam issued a statement saying: “No right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: The Quran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity.”

Truly bizarre. Surely, this guy isn’t a sufficient threat to national security that they couldn’t have waited until the plan got to Dulles to detain him.

Update (9/23 1207): Cat Stevens: Terrorist?

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Religion, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    Oooh baby, baby, it’s a wild world!

    But don’t ya know….
    The first cut is the deepest!

  2. Mark Hasty says:

    Bah. Having written “Moonshadow” is reason enough for him to be on the watch list, IMO.

  3. hmm says:

    Those of you who actually believe a folk singer is a threat to this country truly lack the ability for constructive dialogue and have no capacity for a relevent opinion. Nor do you have any ambition for your own civil rights.

    This is a sad day we live in.

  4. Well, James, this is business as usual for Attorney General Clouseau, the Homeland Security Brothers, and the Keystone Terror Cops. Everybody famous with a Muslim name is a suspect. So put out a dragnet.

    Of course, three years after 9/11, and with 5000 people rounded up summarily for questioning the single set of convictions that they obtained in a full trial they themselves had to ask to have reversed.

    And this is the Administration so many people believe is so good at “protecting us from terror”?

    Well, at least the Rubes in the audience are as funny as the boys on the screen.

  5. Brian J. says:

    It would be a mistake to underestimate a threat because the guy’s a former folk singer. He’s also a convert to Islam, and converts tend to be more zealous than those born into a religion.

    If the Administration (omnipotent, controlling even non-appointed bureaucrats in civil service positions) let Yusaf Islam through because he had a couple of hits in the late sixties and he blew up, the whippoorwills would sing until morning about how the Administration failed to stop someone on the watch list.

    I’m glad that the HSA errs on the side of caution, and I am glad they’re not giving special treatment to “celebrities.”

  6. whatever says:

    This guy has raised lots of money for Hamas, which the last time I looked was spending a lot time and effort killing Jews. While Joseph seems to be okay with this and wants to welcome these sort of people here with open arms, I sort of agree that the U.S. should do what Israel did and kick him out of the country.

    Here some more info on this “singer”:

  7. R Gardner says:

    Looks like Cat Stevens really is a threat. (humor)