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4 Muslims seek damages for time on government no-fly list

Awais Sajjjad, left, Jameel Algibhah, center, and Naveed

Awais Sajjjad, left, Jameel Algibhah, center, and Naveed Shinwari, right, pose as they leave the federal courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York, Friday, June 12, 2015. Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

Four Muslim men who claimed in a lawsuit that they were put on the government's no-fly list because they refused FBI efforts to recruit them as informants to spy on their mosques have been told that they are now free to fly.

The news came on the eve of a federal court hearing in Manhattan Friday on a government motion to dismiss the 2013 suit.

The government gave no reason why the men were ever blocked from flying, said their lawyers, who argued the suit should stay alive.

"These are people who until they received a letter four days ago had to deal with the stigma of being treated as threats to aviation security, the economic loss of being on the no-fly list," lawyer Robert Shwartz told U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams. "They should have been taken off years ago."

The four -- two from New York, one from Connecticut and one from New Jersey -- sued the government to have their right to fly restored, and are also seeking damages from 25 FBI agents they claim retaliated for their noncooperation by violating their constitutional rights and religious freedom.

All citizens or legal permanent residents of the U.S., they claim they have been unable to visit family overseas -- they hail from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan -- and lost job opportunities because of the ban.

Three of the four -- Jameel Albighah, Naveed Shinwari and Awais Sajjad -- were in court for Friday's arguments.

Abrams said she was putting the part of the suit against the government on hold because the four, who had asked the Department of Homeland Security to review their status, are now allowed to fly, but reserved decision on the claims against the agents.

The U.S. has never acknowledged that the four men were on the no-fly list, which is secret, or the rationale, and government lawyer Ellen Blain told Abrams she should dismiss the claims because disclosure of the criteria and reasons behind listings could expose counterterrorism strategies and endanger national security.

"That creates very difficult problems," Blain said.

But the plaintiffs said the restoration of their flying rights effectively confirmed they should never have been banned, and they were entitled to redress.

"A reasonable FBI agent would know you can't retaliate against someone for refusing to spy on their mosque," said lawyer Diala Shamas, representing one of the plaintiffs.

The no-fly list has an estimated 48,000 names. A federal judge in Oregon last year ordered reforms in procedures for people to challenge their no-fly status.With AP

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