I’d put this one on the NO-FLY list, too. Wouldn’t you?

It’s no secret why Muslims comprise the largest group on the government’s NO-FLY list: They comprise the largest number of potential terrorists in the world. When you try to board a plane looking like Osama bin-Laden, you should expect to be detained.

Rehan Motiwala
Rehan Motiwala

LA TIMES  For two weeks, Rehan Motiwala, a 29-year-old medical student from Pomona, sat stranded at the Bangkok airport, sleeping for 10 nights on a roach-infested mattress in a dank, windowless detention room reserved for deportees. (Awwww)

Motiwala, a U.S. citizen, wanted to return to his family in Southern California. (Nidal Hasan was a US citizen, too) But earlier this month, as he traveled from Jakarta, Indonesia, to LAX, airline staff in Bangkok refused to issue him a boarding pass for his connecting flight. U.S. and Thai officials told him that he could not travel but offered no explanation, leading him to believe he’d been placed on the U.S. government’s secret no-fly list.

After dozing on benches and wandering the airport terminal for four nights, Motiwala was told that a Justice Departmentofficial had arrived from the United States to question him. When he declined to answer questions without a lawyer present, U.S. officials left him in the custody of Thai authorities, who tossed him into a detention center in the bowels of Suvarnabhumi Airport. “They treat you like an animal,” Motiwala said in a phone interview. (Awwww)


Motiwala’s travel nightmare ended Friday morning when he was finally granted permission to fly out of Bangkok. But his ordeal underscores the mystery that continues to surround the no-fly list 12 years after its creation. U.S. officials refuse to say who’s on the list or why, arguing that any explanation could alert potential terrorists about who is being watched. (There’s no mystery. There are thousands of Muslim names on the NO FLY list, and considering that a majority of them have ‘Mohammed’ in the name, there are bound to be screw-ups. Or maybe it was the way this guy was dressed. Certainly not what you expect to see on a med student from the US)

“The onus is really on the government to facilitate the return of this person,” said Fatima Dadabhoy, an attorney with terror-linked CAIR (Council on Anti-American Islamic Relations) (all of whom should be on the NO FLY list) in Los Angeles, which is representing Motiwala. “Whether or not they’re on the no-fly list, they can still come home.” (Says who?)

Although travelers can petition to be removed from the no-fly list, civil liberties advocates say the Department of Homeland Security‘s redress process is so opaque that the only way to know if you’ve been cleared is to attempt to fly again. (FINALLY! DHS gets something right)


State and Justice Department officials in Washington offered no information about Motiwala’s status, saying they couldn’t discuss specific cases. The American Embassy in Bangkok, whose consular officers were in contact with Motiwala during his detention, declined to comment. A Justice Department official said about 20,000 people were on the no-fly list as of October, including between 500 and 1,000 American citizens. 

Motiwala, whose parents are of Pakistani origin (DING! DING! DING?! Red flag, Red flag), was not told why he might be on the list. A likely possibility, however, is his contact with Tablighi Jamaat, a fundamentalist conservative Muslim missionary movement based in South Asia.

He took leave from medical school last year, traveled to Pakistan to visit relatives and went on to Indonesia to work with the group, members of which go around the world “proselytizing for Islam.” (DING! DING! DING! What medical student does that in the middle of med school?)

Rehan Motiwala hugs his father, Rafiq, upon arrival at LAX after a 10-day detention at the Bangkok airport
Rehan Motiwala hugs his father, Rafiq, upon arrival at LAX after a 10-day detention at the Bangkok airport

Tablighi Jamaat claims millions of followers, but U.S. and European law enforcement officials have raised questions about possible connections to radical Islam. (There you go!) John Walker Lindh (American Taliban), an American who converted to Islam, met Tablighi missionaries in California before joining the Taliban to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. British security officials allege that two of the suicide bombers who attacked the London transit system in 2005 had attended a Tablighi Jamaat mosque.

Motiwala first heard of the movement when he arrived last year in Karachi, the Pakistani mega-city where his family members live. Inspired by the Tablighis’ devotion, he began attending their meetings, improved his Urdu language skills, grew a beard and shed his Western clothes for a Pakistani shalwar kameez, a long tunic. (Yep, that sounds like a medical student to me. Not)

He finally landed at LAX, but was held for questioning for over three hours by Customs and Border Protection officers. The agents asked him about his travels and confiscated his laptop, external hard drive, flash drive, SIM card and other materials, saying they wanted to make copies of the contents, Motiwala said.