US deports Yusuf Islam over claims that he supports terrorist groups

Maxine Frith Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 23 September 2004 00:00 BST

Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer known as Cat Stevens, was deported from the United States yesterday after immigration officials said he was on a terrorism list.

Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer known as Cat Stevens, was deported from the United States yesterday after immigration officials said he was on a terrorism list.

Mr Islam, a Muslim convert, was on a flight to Washington when the FBI ordered the plane to divert to Maine, 600 miles away, on the grounds that he was a security threat. Mr Islam, 56, and his 21-year-old daughter were marched off the plane by FBI agents. Within hours, he was deported to Britain.

A spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security said Mr Islam was on the "watch list" because of his "known associations and financial support to organisations believed to be aiding terrorism". Officials said intelligence reports suggested he had given money to Hamas.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) reacted angrily to the singer's deportation and warned that it could wreck the "bridge building" between the West and the Islamic world.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, deputy secretary general of the MCB and a friend of Mr Islam, said: "Yusuf is known as one of the most moderate and reasonable Muslims who does a lot of work for charity and campaigns for peace. I cannot imagine how he came to be on such a list. This is a slap in the face for the bridge building between the communities which we have all been working for."

Mr Islam became a Muslim in 1976. He has condemned the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and campaigned against the war in Iraq.

In 2000, he was deported from Israel after the authorities there claimed he had donated money to Hamas, allegations that he vehemently denied.

Mr Islam's name is believed to have been added to the US list only recently, and friends say he was not aware that he was regarded as a security threat.

He had visited the US in May with no problems, and had been allowed to board the United Airlines London to Washington flight on Tuesday by British immigration officials.

His status on the list was only discovered after the flight had left Heathrow with 280 passengers on board, including members of the rock band Marillion. As the Boeing 747 neared its destination, passengers were told the flight was being diverted to Bangor, Maine, because of bad weather.

Marillion's singer, Steve Hogarth, said: "After about 10 minutes, the captain made another announcement saying it was in fact an FBI security alert. I then met a security guard who said the two people escorted off were Cat Stevens and his daughter. I was stunned. He is a pacifist and a great songwriter."

Mr Islam's daughter was allowed to remain, and the plane continued to Dulles airport, while he was sent back to Britain. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The reasons for his detention and return are obviously a matter for the US and not for us."

Mr Islam was born Steven Demetre Georgiou to a Greek Cypriot father and Swedish mother. He found fame in the 1970s with hits such as "Morning Has Broken" and "Wild World", and underwent his religious conversion after he nearly drowned while swimming off the Malibu coast in 1976. After the World Trade Centre attacks, he issued a statement saying: "No right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity."

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