Ashraf Maniar to be surveilled and also harassed at residence in the U.S., and detained through a foreign government, ~ being inserted on the terrorism watchlist.

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As his plane touched under on the tarmac at Karachi worldwide Airport in respectable 2020, Ashraf Maniar lastly felt self relax. After ~ a harrowing 24 hrs of travel, beginning from the joined States, connecting in Turkey, and also on to his final location in Pakistan, he felt choose he to be on the threshold the resuming a typical life. Because that years, Maniar, a 30-year-old U.S. Citizens born and also raised in California, had actually been life a life gripped through fear and paranoia. A friendship the had grew years previously with a young woman in the united Kingdom, who was later on accused of extremism, had lugged him to the attention of defense officials in the U.S., leading to years that harassment, though never any charges versus him.

Worst the all, during the years Maniar had actually been life under government suspicion, he had actually been can not to proceed his normal way of life of regular travel. After several failed do the efforts to board flights, wherein he sometimes uncovered himself met through FBI agents at the airport that prevented him from boarding, his lawyers had actually undertaken a prolonged administrative process with the department of countryside Security and also determined that he had been inserted on the government’s secretive no-fly list. They introduced a legal initiative to clean his name and also get the removed, which took several an ext years the fighting against an opaque system set up by Homeland defense to clandestinely blacklist doubt terrorists.

After year of stress, Maniar’s troubles now appeared to be resolved. Packed in addition to his passport and travel documents, Maniar had actually a one-page paper that signified his freedom: an main letter native the U.S. Room of Homeland security confirming the he had actually been taken turn off the no-fly list and was not thought about a danger to travel.

“For all the years since my difficulties started, I had been nurtured to feel like I was a criminal, particularly when i’m at a border or law anything government-related,” Maniar said. “So I had actually this letter clearing me gripped in mine hand.”

Disembarking native his flight into the cavernous arrival terminal in ~ Karachi global Airport, Maniar, bleary-eyed native his lengthy journey, join the teeming crowds making their way toward customs. Wait in the customizeds line, he scanned the crowd of travelers, countless of lock families, arriving from the joined States and also other Western countries to visit relatives. A household friend to be idling in a car sent to choose him up outside, and also relatives were wait to greet that at their home.


Ashraf Maniar.

Photo: Pedro Armando Aparicio

When Maniar got to the front of the customizeds line, a young mrs agent take it his passport. She asked a few brief questions around his stay, prior to pausing and transforming to make a quick contact out of earshot. Hanging up, she nodded to him that every little thing was in order. Maniar to be elated. After years of invariably gift detained and also treated as a criminal in ~ every border he tried come cross, he felt he had ultimately made his method back come freedom.

“I was so relieved, honestly. At the moment, ns was feeling prefer my brand-new life had actually begun,” Maniar said. “I felt like I to be finally totally free from harassment and back to traveling like I offered to.”

As his passport to be stamped and handed earlier to him, an invisible weight lifted turn off his shoulders. Pulling his carry-on behind him, he started picking increase his actions toward the package claim, feeling all of sudden invigorated around what lay prior to him.

As he to be walking, Maniar heard a voice speak to out native behind.

“Ashraf Maniar!”

Locking eyes on him was a lanky, broad-shouldered man with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a flowing beige shalwar kameez. The male strode approximately Maniar, towering end his thin 5-foot-9-inch frame, and brusquely take it his passport, stating that he was to monitor him immediately. Maniar’s love sank: He was not totally free after all. Struggling because that some way to explain his convoluted governmental experience in the U.S. Come this security main in a strange country that he had actually never visited, that pulled the end the DHS letter clearing him from the no-fly list.

The man took the document and looked in ~ it because that a moment without recognition, prior to repeating flatly that Maniar to be to follow him because that questioning.

Maniar was taken up several flights of stairs to an interrogation room, where five uniformed men, agents the the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency were waiting for him. By this time, his pulse was racing. Regardless of his U.S. Citizenship, the knew very well the in Pakistan authorities frequently make civilization disappear without a trace, and they seemed to have been well ready for his arrival.

Two the the men roughly placed Maniar under on a chair in the facility room and handcuffed him with his eight in front. Among the agents inquiry why he was visiting Pakistan and what he knew about the war in Syria. In thickly accented English, the agent said if Maniar no truthfully phone call them whatever they wanted to know, “this is no going come be simple for you.”

“At this point, in mine mind, ns was like, dude, i’m done. I don’t understand what’s going on, but I recognize the ISI is a big deal,” Maniar said. “I was reasoning I’m never seeing my household again. Ns either walk to it is in dead, or they’re about to set me up because that something.”

Maniar said that he didn’t have anything to tell them. Frantically scanning his mind because that something that can explain his case to the ISI agents and get him the end of this, the went ago to the no-fly list letter. The one-page document, issued under the letterhead of the room of homeland Security, allow him come fly and clearing his name of suspicions of terrorism ago home, had been his ticket the end of the nightmare of regulation enforcement harassment that been suffering for years. Yet somehow the blog post that he wasn’t a threat hadn’t been interacted abroad.

Maniar make the efforts with raising desperation to define the letter and also how he had resolved his worries in the joined States. As he to be speaking, a black color bag came down over his head.


A human being works in a room at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s nationwide Targeting center at an undisclosed location in the Washington suburbs of north Virginia in Dec. 1, 2006.

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Before the Law

In the year after 9/11, the U.S. Government occurred an expansive watchlisting device for tracking people suspected the being national security threats. Through 2013, a list known as the terror Screening Database — TSDB, an ext commonly well-known as the terrorist watchlist — had grown to thousands of thousands that names. These to be people, some American citizens, whom the federal government had blacklisted there is no due process for having feasible ties to terror groups. Details from the terror watchlist was supplied to construct other lists used to subject civilization to included scrutiny in ~ borders, airports, or even during routine encounters with U.S. Regulation enforcement. Among these smaller lists was the no-fly list that bars individuals from travel by air, and also another database referred to as the selectee list, i beg your pardon flags people for increase scrutiny in ~ airports and border crossings.

In 2014, a significant investigation based on leaked records was released by The Intercept shedding irradiate on exactly how the terrorist watchlist to be constructed. A 166-page record titled “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” exposed a hidden program the blacklisted large numbers the people based on unchallengeable secret criteria. The watchlisting indict revealed the levels of “derogatory information” that could lead to who winding increase on the list, exposing one opaque system with few checks and also balances the was ripe because that abuse. That was simple to gain yourself ~ above the list and also suffer its consequences, yet very challenging to know exactly how to clear your name if friend were in reality innocent.


Over the years, number of lawsuits to be filed by people seeking to difficulty their consists on the list. After gift subjected to repeated detention by U.S. Customizeds officials after traveling abroad, a U.S. Citizen called Anas Elhady, in addition to two dozen various other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit over the watchlisting routine in 2016. A commonwealth judge rule in 2019 the the watchlisting regimen was unconstitutional.

In March, the U.S. Government effectively appealed the ruling, leaving the watchlisting system in ar for now. But court papers from the Elhady case revealed some crucial details around the secretive program. In a explain of facts regarded the case, the U.S. Federal government disclosed the in June 2017 approximately 1.2 million civilization were included on the watchlist, the whom about 4,600 to be U.S. Citizen or long-term residents. The exact same filing likewise helped show how the list have the right to go global: “TSDB data is likewise shared with much more than sixty foreign governments with which the TSC has gone into into international partner arrangements, which, topic to their domestic laws and also the constraints in the agreements, usage the info for terrorist screening purposes.”

Despite years of initiatives by civil liberties lawyers and also journalists, much around the watchlisting regime remains unknown, including how information supplied to construct the list could be used by foreign governments.

“We don’t have actually a lot of of difficult information about the form that info sharing agreements with foreign governments on intelligence and also the materials of the watchlist take. It’s not at every implausible that federal governments we share watchlist details with can go on and share it v other federal governments or use it to develop their own knowledge commodities,” stated Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff lawyer in the American civil Liberties Union’s national Security Project.

But, Handeyside added, the an easy fact of sharing information with foreign governments arguing that someone could be a terrorist can develop enormous risks for them: “To the extent that the U.S. Federal government is using and also sharing watchlist info at all, the creates serious risks. You deserve to have a hell the a time clearing your name v the U.S. Government however still be detained, targeted, interrogated, or searched really intensively abroad, based upon information around you the is outdated or inaccurate.”

When it pertains to the no-fly list specifically, U.S. Citizens and also permanent residents have the right to now go through a legal process to remove themselves from the list. But even if they are cleared come fly, it remains possible that they could remain ~ above other an enig lists or that an unfavorable information around them might wind increase persisting ~ above databases kept by international governments. The threats of this can be very serious, particularly when people who have been watchlisted room traveling to foreign nations where legitimate protections space weak.

“The whole watchlisting companies is predicated ~ above the idea of guilt through association,” claimed Gadeir Abbas a staff attorney because that the council on American-Islamic relationships who represented people on the watchlist. “People are connected to others based upon their associations, and based ~ above those associations, potentially determined to be higher risk and subject to more scrutiny.”

It was that formula the guilt-by-association that gained Maniar detailed in the very first place, trapping him in a web of problems from which there seemed to be no escape.

The SSSS Notification

The chain of occasions that finished up with Maniar hooded and handcuffed in the custody that Pakistani intelligence agents had begun several year earlier. In 2014, Maniar had come to be friendly through a young british woman named Fatima Peer-Mohammed. Peer-Mohammed was a friend of his brother wife and had met through Maniar during visits the made come the U.K. The two occurred a bond, mostly ongoing over WhatsApp message while he remained in the U.S., end their shared interest in the humanitarian dilemm then arising in Syria.

At the very same time, Peer-Mohammed’s society media posts were separately bringing she to the attention of brother intelligence, which had become by alarm by reports of brothers citizens traveling to Syria to sign up with the dispute or expressing assistance for extremist groups there.

At the finish of 2014, ~ a number of prior visits, Peer-Mohammed’s home was raided by security officials. After browsing the house, castle confiscated her digital devices, consisting of the call on i beg your pardon she’d chatted on WhatsApp with Maniar. In may 2015, Maniar’s then-wife called and also told him the Peer-Mohammed had been arrested by british counterterrorism police. She was currently in custody on terrorism charges regarded her social media posts, and authorities were additionally asking questions about Peer-Mohammed’s brother, who they had actually suspected of travel to Syria to sign up with an extremist group. Maniar’s wife had actually other poor news for him: British knowledge agents had actually stopped by her home to interview her as well, asking number of questions around Maniar himself.

Within a couple of weeks of Peer-Mohammed’s arrest, the FBI contacted Maniar through phone in ~ his house in California, questioning for one interview. ~ above the advice of a friend, who had told him never ever to speak the FBI without a lawyer, the told them that he had actually nothing come say. Yet after decreasing that early interview, his problems started multiplying. Maniar ran an online kitchenware business and frequently traveled around the United states by air. While he had actually never skilled travel troubles before, top top the an initial flight he take it after that speak to from the FBI, the noticed that his boarding overcome had begun printing out the “SSSS” notification: a security tag flagging the for additional scrutiny. On several subsequent flights he experienced unexplained delays obtaining a boarding pass. On a pilgrimage to Toronto in February 2016, that was quit for several hours at the Canadian border after showing up by air, an experience that was recurring on his return trip to California by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After the ill-fated journey, Maniar reserved a meeting through the FBI at your West Covina branch office in the really hopes of dispelling everything scrutiny he to be under. During that meeting, according to Maniar, the FBI called him the they had no negative information about him and also expressed no objection come him proceeding to travel.

In the summer the 2016, Maniar traveled to Saudi Arabia top top a religious pilgrimage before heading to Turkey to join a charity convoy trip organized by the british nongovernmental company Live Updates from Syria. On the trip, the traveled through several other British activists, crossing the Turkish border with Syria and also posting on society media for two weeks native the town of Atmeh, wherein he and others dispersed food, medicine, and clothing to displaced refugees. Upon his return to the joined States, he to be briefly bring away aside and questioned again by CBP agents but experienced no various other problems and was enabled to proceed home.

Maniar began noticing disturbing points after the trip, however. Strange cars would certainly be parked outside his residence for days. Once he left the house, the dare would occasionally follow him together he went on errands come the grocery save or mosque. On several occasions, follow to Maniar and documented in court documents outlining his experiences, helicopters loudly hovered short over his house for extended periods the time when he to be there v his family. In might 2017, as soon as he arrived on the airport because that a expedition to Dubai, several plainclothes FBI agents were wait for him at the check-in desk. They educated him the he would not be allowed to plank his flight, before telling him come go residence immediately and following that in their cars.

In the at an early stage morning hrs of December 14, 2017, Maniar to be at home with his mother when he heard a lengthy banging top top the door. The roused self from bed and also saw dozens the FBI agents who had a warrant to raid his home, ostensibly on allegations that harassing his wife, from whom he had end up being estranged after the arrest of Peer-Mohammed. Because that several hrs the agents raided his house and took electronics, when he and his mom sat handcuffed outside in the driveway. Maniar was not charged with any type of crime. But they to be doing a full-court push to find something.

“I felt like I to be an investment for them: like they’d invested so much money and also time into investigating me, and now they just wanted to gain a return.”
“I tried to it is in as open up as I could with the FBI, wanted to tell lock that ns am not a threat and to leaving me alone. Ns a organization person so ns know about profiles, and when someone fits mine profile because that a customer I pursue them prefer a shark. When this to be happening, i felt prefer that was exactly how lock were treating me,” Maniar said. “I felt like I to be an invest for them: choose they’d invest so much money and time into investigating me, and also now they simply wanted to acquire a return.”

A few days after ~ the raid, Maniar saw the airport to catch one more flight and also was again quit at the airplane by FBI agents who had actually been waiting for him at the check-in desk. As soon as again they prevented him from boarding and also told that to go home.

Maniar had little understanding of nationwide security law. But by this time he had done sufficient of his own research virtual to know that he was on the federal government no-fly list. The contacted a lawyer, who initiated a procedure with the department of Homeland defense to recognize whether he was listed. Month later, in June 2018, he received a letter confirming the he was on the no-fly list yet with no details around the reason for his placement. Upon additional pressure indigenous his lawyer, landscape Security noted a paper confirming the he was “on the U.S. Government’s No Fly list due to, in part, association and extensive interaction with a well-known extremist situated in the uk who has actually supported terrorist organizations.”

After several years that frustration and fear, Maniar currently felt that he had at least gotten to the bottom that things. That had constantly suspected the his friendship through Peer-Mohammed had actually put that on the U.S. Government’s radar, despite he had actually no idea exactly how to clean his name. Now the government had confirmed it come him composing what their trouble was v him, in a terse one-sentence summary.

On respectable 22, 2020, after number of years the litigation, Maniar ultimately received a letter from the room of Homeland protection that cleared him native the list and stated the he was not a risk to fly. As far as the knew, his surname was cleared. Maniar booked a flight scheduled because that one week later, to visit his new wife’s family in Pakistan, v a quick stopover in Turkey. The was passionate to take some time far after the year of stress and also paranoia he had actually experienced in the joined States. That was supposed to be a be sure trip.

Under a black Hood

After being interrogated because that several hours by ISI agents at the airport, lot of it through a black hood over his head, Maniar was taken, quiet hooded, come a loading area the Karachi global Airport and placed right into an SUV together with several ISI agents.

“At this point, my knees were shaking, ns knew ns was done for, and my household was never going to watch me again,” he recalled.

After being pushed for about fifty percent an hour, Maniar was required to a building inside a gated compound and left in a tiny brown-carpeted office by himself. Hooded v his hand cuffed in front, he satellite for a full day by himself in silence, periodically hearing yelling and also what he thought were muffled screams coming v the walls. He had had no possibility to call his family members where he to be or what had happened in ~ the airport. Over the food of approximately three days, Maniar was kept in custody, doubted by a rotating set of Pakistani interrogators. Castle asked him questions about Syria, and various terrorist teams in Pakistan about the world. At time they vaguely intimidated him that things were walking to come to be “very difficult” if he no tell lock what they want to hear.

Left alone for hrs in the interrogation room, Maniar would periodically work the bag turn off his head and look about at the north brown-carpeted room that had actually suddenly condensed to come to be his whole world.

“When you have actually a bag over your head the long, it becomes a satisfied to simply take the off and look around and also see light,” Maniar said. “At the same time, ns was spring around, and I’m thinking that I might not even believe this is how far the U.S. Government would walk to harass me: They wouldn’t let me step on a plane, they wouldn’t let me step foot in an additional country, and also now they had me carried here and also were just leaving me.”

On the fourth day, one interrogator came and also brought the a breakfast of paratha and chai. End the past three job of interrogation, Maniar had told his Pakistani interrogators the whole story that his ex-wife and also her friends in England, including Peer-Mohammed, and his difficulties with the U.S. Government and also the no-fly list and how that had led come the breakup the his marriage. This interrogator, that unlike the rather wore a suit, tie, and also immaculately shined dress shoes, said him the from the view of the Pakistani government they had no problem with Maniar, but that the U.S. Had shared information flagging him together a possible terrorist.

Since he had disappeared at the airport, Maniar’s family members had to be furiously contacting public representative in Pakistan and at the U.S. Embassy make the efforts to find out what had happened to him. His interrogator now told him the he’d educated them the he to be safe and would quickly be released. But he additionally advised him to publication a trip out of the country within the next few days and go back to the joined States and sort the end whatever trouble he had actually with the U.S. Federal government there prior to returning.

Maniar was relieved but likewise demoralized. The was no free, ~ all, in spite of the year of effort he had spent do the efforts to clear his name. Together instructed, that booked a flight ago to the joined States. In ~ Atlanta’s worldwide airport, together Maniar disembarked indigenous the plane, he spotted 2 Homeland security officials who were scanning the group of passengers. “As soon as I experienced them, i walked up, ns said, ‘I understand you’re wait for me, let’s simply go.’” The agents laughed and took Maniar because that questioning, letting him go after around 30 minutes of discussion of his trip. The told them about his detention in Pakistan and the ISI agent’s statement the he had actually been flagged as a terrorist by the U.S. Government, regardless of his clearance from the no-fly list. The agents told him they had actually no idea around any the this, before letting him continue home.

The FBI and the department of countryside Security declined to comment for this story.

An arbitrary System

The arbitrary, opaque nature that the watchlisting system and also the threats that it deserve to pose to civilization while travel abroad have been criticized because that years by polite liberties experts, many of whom who have likewise cautioned against recent calls to increase the mechanism to deal with suspected residential extremists.

In current months, right-wing figures, including a far-right YouTube personality named Nicholas Fuentes, have actually allegedly been placed on the no-fly list. While unconfirmed, the possible listing comes months after ~ top democratic officials referred to as for broadening the watchlisting device to combat the hazard of residential extremism.

Maniar is presently fighting in court to have actually his name gotten rid of from what his lawyer believes is the selectee list, one of the other secret lists developed from the terror Screening Database. Back the room of Homeland defense has evidenced to him in writing that that is clearing to paris by removing him from the no-fly list, winning that fight way little if every foreign country he arrives in has him flagged as a potential terrorist since of his visibility on some other an enig database, or due to the fact that information has actually been shared with international governments the he is a danger yet follow-up messages clearing the never reach them.

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Maniar has actually since worked out into a quiet residential life v his new wife and their newborn child. Regardless of persistent fears and paranoia every time the boards a flight, Maniar proceeds to operation his business while trying come live as normally as possible. Yet the yearslong experience of being surveilled, watchlisted, and also even detained with seemingly no method of clearing his name has actually left him emotion psychologically homeless.

“I feel sad and virtually betrayed together an American citizen since I believed I had actually all these rights, and also as a taxpayer, if i’m paying money, that they usage it to go after criminals,” Maniar said from his brand-new home in Texas. “It provides me sad due to the fact that when girlfriend don’t have a government that has your back, you feel virtually alienated. Girlfriend feel favor an alien that doesn’t belong anywhere.”

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