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?