Former Cat Stevens
Barred From Entering U.S.
Plane Diverted When Muslim Convert's Name Found on Watch List
By LESLIE MILLER, AP
Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens
WASHINGTON (Sept. 22) - A London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Maine when it was discovered that passenger Yusuf Islam - formerly known as singer Cat Stevens - was on a government watch list and barred from entering the country.
United Airlines Flight 919 was en route to Dulles International Airport when the match was made Tuesday 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.
"He was interviewed
and denied admission to the United States on national security grounds."
-Dennis Murphy, Homeland Security Department spokesman
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.
He said Islam 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 for a charity event and 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 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 founded Islamia Primary school in London in 1983. In 1998, it became the first Muslim school in Britain to receive government support, on the same basis as Christian and other sectarian schools.
A statement posted on a fan-supported Web site where his music is promoted said Islam being on a watch list ''is certainly an error.''
''It's also a very sad state of affairs when a man best known as a peace loving pop star can be grouped into the same category Osama Bin Laden just because of his chosen faith,'' the statement said.
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.''