STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Muslim American seeking asylum in Sweden claimed Wednesday he was detained at the U.S. government’s request while in the United Arab Emirates last summer, tortured in custody and interrogated about the activities of a Portland mosque.
Yonas Fikre told a news conference Wednesday that he was held for 106 days and was beaten, threatened with death and kept in solitary confinement in a frigid cell.
The 33-year-old, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Eritrea, says he had attended the same mosque in Portland as a man who has been charged in a plot to detonate a bomb in the northwestern U.S. city. He moved to Sudan in 2009 and later to the United Arab Emirates. He went to Sweden, where he has relatives, after being released from detention on Sept. 15.
Fikre, who converted to Islam in 2003, is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland’s Masjid-as-Sabr mosque. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American who is awaiting trial on a charge of plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in November 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.
Fikre says he met Mohamud a handful of times, but wouldn’t call him a friend or even an acquaintance.
Fikre says he was arrested on June 1 in the United Arab Emirates and taken to a prison in Abu Dhabi, where he was questioned about the activities of the Portland mosque and its imam, Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye.
When he first suggested that his UAE interrogators were working for the FBI, they became very upset, he said.
“They got very angry and they said: We don’t work with the Americans, we are an independent country,” he said. However, in the final days of his confinement, Fikre said that one interrogator acknowledged that the FBI had been involved in his questioning.
“He confirmed to me that the FBI was there. Also when I was getting beaten, they did admit that the FBI knew exactly what was happening and they were working with the FBI,” Frike said.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not discuss specifics of the case.
“I can tell you that the FBI trains its agents very specifically and very thoroughly about what is acceptable under U.S. law,” she said. “To do anything counter to that training is counterproductive — we risk legal liability and potentially losing a criminal case in court.”
An aide to Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer told the AP that last June, Blumenauer’s office had been contacted by Fikre’s wife and lawyer after he vanished. The aide, Willie Smith, said State Department officials then confirmed to the congressman’s office that Fikre was being held in the United Arab Emirates.
According to Smith, U.S. government officials told Fikre’s wife that he “was fine and that he wasn’t being mistreated.”
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