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Malaysian Stopover Proves Costly
Houston man shackled, jailed 27 hours upon arrival at
By ROSANNA RUIZ
It wasn't that federal agents wanted to question him about the overseas
trip he had just taken, Firasat Shah says. He insists that he had no
objection to answering them.
What left him feeling humiliated and mistreated, he said Wednesday, was
that federal agents shackled him and detained him overnight like a
criminal, simply because of where he had been.
Shah's eyes welled with tears as he recounted what he says happened to
him at the hands of federal agents after he returned to Houston on
July 29 from a trip to his native land and Malaysia.
His decision to go public about his 27-hour detention comes as U.S. Attorney
General John Ashcroft tours the nation to defend the USA Patriot Act, which
some civil libertarians say allows federal agents to go too far in the name
of preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Shah said he waited more than a month to discuss the incident publicly
because his wife and three children were still in
and he was concerned that they might have trouble returning.
Shah, a 43-year-old geophysicist, said agents approached him at Bush
Intercontinental Airport as he returned from an almost monthlong vacation in
Pakistan and a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where U.S. authorities
believe terrorists planned the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
He said he visited Kuala Lumpur because he was thinking of asking his
employer, whom he declined to name, to transfer him there. That stopover
seemed to raise eyebrows, Shah said.
"Hundreds of Americans were visiting that place," he said. "What's wrong
with me visiting that place?"
Shah, who is involved with a Houston local-access TV program about Islam,
said he interviewed a number of politicians, religious leaders, lawyers and
others for the show while in Pakistan.
During hours of questioning, he said, his actions while abroad were twisted
into something sinister. He said he was honest with the agents about his
political beliefs and his disagreement with U.S. foreign policy in the
Mideast, which friends have told him may not have been wise.
"If I had said I agreed with everything (about U.S. policy), maybe it
would've shortened" the detention, he said.
"They were trying to intimidate," Shah said, "twisting things and putting
things in my mouth that I did not say."
He said he asked more than once to call his immigration attorney or the
Pakistani consulate, but was refused.
At about 10:30 p.m., he said, his wrists were shackled to a chain around his
waist and his feet were chained together. He said he then was transferred to
a federal prison in Beaumont. Early the next morning, he said, he was
returned to the detention facility at Bush and then released at about 5:30
After an immigration agent told a friend of Shah's that he had been
detained, family and friends called consulate officials, the
American Civil Liberties Union
and others to seek his release.
Others were outraged.
"What qualifies as reasonable grounds for detaining someone for (27) hours?"
asked Annette Lamoreaux, East Texas regional director for the American Civil
Liberties Union. "Taking a stop-off in Kuala Lumpur, in my mind, doesn't
"I think this kind of thing happens a lot, and we just don't hear about it
because people are afraid" to come forward, she said.
Despite his experience, Shah agreed. He said that, although his decision to
go public may bring further scrutiny, he is confident that he made the right
"I'm going to fight my way," he said, "and see how many
I have here."
2003-09-13 Sat 11:51ct