Ashraf Maniar was surveilled and harassed at house in the U.S., and also detained by a international government, after ~ being inserted on the terror watchlist.

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As his plane touched down on the tarmac at Karachi worldwide Airport in august 2020, Ashraf Maniar finally felt himself relax. After ~ a harrowing 24 hours of travel, beginning from the unified States, connecting in Turkey, and on come his final destination in Pakistan, he felt favor he was on the threshold the resuming a normal life. For years, Maniar, a 30-year-old U.S. Citizen born and raised in California, had actually been living a life gripped by fear and paranoia. A friendship that had cultivated years earlier with a young mrs in the united Kingdom, that was later on accused the extremism, had lugged him to the fist of security officials in the U.S., bring about years the harassment, despite never any type of charges versus him.

Worst that all, during the year Maniar had been life under government suspicion, he had been can not to proceed his normal way of life of frequent travel. After numerous failed make the efforts to plank flights, where he sometimes discovered himself met by FBI agents in ~ the airport who prevented him from boarding, his lawyers had undertaken a lengthy administrative process with the department of landscape Security and determined that he had been put on the government’s secretive no-fly list. They introduced a legal initiative to clear his name and get that removed, which take it several much more years that fighting against an opaque system set up by Homeland protection to clandestinely blacklist suspected terrorists.

After year of stress, Maniar’s problems now seemed to it is in resolved. Packed along with his passport and travel documents, Maniar had actually a one-page file that signified his freedom: an official letter from the U.S. Room of Homeland defense confirming that he had been taken off the no-fly list and was not thought about a hazard to travel.

“For every the years due to the fact that my troubles started, I had been nurtured to feel like I was a criminal, specifically when ns 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 international Airport, Maniar, bleary-eyed native his lengthy journey, joined the teeming crowds making their method toward customs. Waiting in the customizeds line, that scanned the group of travelers, countless of lock families, arriving from the unified States and other Western nations to visit relatives. A family members friend was idling in a automobile sent to pick him up outside, and relatives were wait to greet him at your home.


Ashraf Maniar.

Photo: Pedro Armando Aparicio

When Maniar gained to the front of the customs line, a young female agent took his passport. She request a few brief questions around his stay, before pausing and turning to do a quick speak to out of earshot. Hanging up, she nodded come him that whatever was in order. Maniar was elated. After year of invariably being detained and also treated together a criminal in ~ every border the tried to cross, the felt the had lastly made his way back to freedom.

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

As his passport to be stamped and handed ago to him, one invisible load lifted off his shoulders. Pulling his carry-on behind him, he started picking up his actions toward the package claim, feeling all of sudden invigorated about what lay before him.

As he was walking, Maniar heard a voice contact out from behind.

“Ashraf Maniar!”

Locking eye on him was a lanky, broad-shouldered guy with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a flow beige shalwar kameez. The guy strode approximately Maniar, towering end his thin 5-foot-9-inch frame, and brusquely took his passport, stating the he to be to monitor him immediately. Maniar’s heart sank: He to be not complimentary after all. Struggling for some means to describe his convoluted bureaucratic experience in the U.S. To this security main in a strange country that he had never visited, he pulled the end the DHS letter clearing that from the no-fly list.

The guy took the document and looked at it for a moment without recognition, before repeating flatly that Maniar to be to follow him because that questioning.

Maniar was taken up number of flights the stairs to an interrogation room, where 5 uniformed men, agents that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence company were wait for him. By this time, his pulse to be racing. Regardless of his U.S. Citizenship, that knew very well the in Pakistan authorities frequently make people disappear there is no a trace, and they appeared to have been well ready for his arrival.

Two the the men roughly placed Maniar down on a chair in the center room and also handcuffed him v his arms in front. One of the agents request why he was visiting Pakistan and also what the knew about the battle in Syria. In thickly accented English, the agent claimed if Maniar no truthfully phone call them everything they want to know, “this is not going come be simple for you.”

“At this point, in my mind, i was like, dude, i’m done. I don’t know what’s going on, but I understand the ISI is a big deal,” Maniar said. “I was reasoning I’m never ever seeing my household again. I’m either walking to it is in dead, or they’re around to set me up for something.”

Maniar stated that the didn’t have anything come tell them. Frantically scanning his mind for something that could explain his instance to the ISI agents and also get him out of this, that went ago to the no-fly perform letter. The one-page document, approve under the letterhead that the room of countryside Security, permitting him to fly and clearing his surname of suspicions that terrorism earlier home, had been his ticket the end of the nightmare of regulation enforcement harassment that been enduring for years. Yet somehow the message that he wasn’t a hazard hadn’t been connected abroad.

Maniar tried with increasing desperation to explain the letter and how he had actually resolved his worries in the joined States. Together he was speaking, a black bag came down over his head.


A human works in a room at U.S. Customs and also Border Protection’s national Targeting center at an undisclosed ar in the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia in Dec. 1, 2006.

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Before the Law

In the year after 9/11, the U.S. Government emerged an expansive watchlisting device for tracking individuals suspected of being nationwide security threats. Through 2013, a list recognized as the terror Screening Database — TSDB, an ext commonly well-known as the terrorist watchlist — had grown to numerous thousands that names. These to be people, some American citizens, whom the federal government had blacklisted there is no due process for having possible ties to terrorist groups. Info from the terror watchlist was offered to construct various other lists provided to subject civilization to added scrutiny at borders, airports, or even during routine encounters with U.S. Regulation enforcement. Amongst these smaller sized lists was the no-fly list that bars individuals from traveling by air, and another database called the selectee list, i beg your pardon flags people for intensified scrutiny at airports and also border crossings.

In 2014, a significant investigation based on leaked files was published by The Intercept shedding irradiate on just how the terror watchlist was constructed. A 166-page paper titled “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” exposed a concealed program that blacklisted big numbers of people based upon unchallengeable secret criteria. The watchlisting accuse revealed the levels of “derogatory information” that could lead to someone winding up on the list, exposing one opaque device with couple of checks and also balances that was ripe because that abuse. The was easy to get yourself top top the list and also suffer its consequences, yet very daunting to know how to clear your name if girlfriend were actually innocent.


Over the years, numerous lawsuits were filed by people seeking to an obstacle their consists on the list. After being subjected to repetitive detention by U.S. Customizeds officials after traveling abroad, a U.S. Citizen called Anas Elhady, along with two dozen various other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit end the watchlisting program in 2016. A commonwealth judge rule in 2019 that the watchlisting routine was unconstitutional.

In March, the U.S. Government successfully appealed the ruling, leaving the watchlisting mechanism in ar for now. However court records from the Elhady case revealed some essential details about the secretive program. In a statement of facts regarded the case, the U.S. Government disclosed that in June 2017 around 1.2 million people were consisted of on the watchlist, the whom around 4,600 were U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. The same filing additionally helped show how the list deserve to go global: “TSDB data is also shared with much more than sixty international governments through which the TSC has entered into foreign partner arrangements, which, topic to their residential laws and also the constraints in the agreements, use the details for terror screening purposes.”

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

“We don’t have actually a lot of difficult information around the form that details sharing agreements with international governments ~ above intelligence and also the contents of the watchlist take. It’s no at every implausible that federal governments we re-superstructure watchlist info with can go on and also share it v other federal governments or use it to develop their own intelligence commodities,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff lawyer in the American civil Liberties Union’s national Security Project.

But, Handeyside added, the straightforward fact that sharing details with foreign governments saying that someone might be a terror can develop enormous risks for them: “To the extent that the U.S. Government is using and sharing watchlist info at all, it creates major risks. You deserve to have a hell that a time clearing her name v the U.S. Government however still it is in detained, targeted, interrogated, or searched an extremely intensively abroad, based upon information about you the is outdated or inaccurate.”

When it concerns the no-fly list specifically, U.S. Citizens and permanent residents can now go v a legal procedure to remove themselves indigenous the list. But even if they space cleared come fly, that remains possible that they could remain ~ above other an enig lists or that an unfavorable information around them could wind up persisting on databases preserved by international governments. The risks of this could be an extremely serious, particularly when individuals who have been watchlisted space traveling to foreign nations where legal protections are weak.

“The entire watchlisting enterprise is predicated on the idea of guilt through association,” stated Gadeir Abbas a staff attorney for the board of directors 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 greater risk and also subject to more scrutiny.”

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

The SSSS Notification

The chain of occasions that ended up through Maniar hooded and also handcuffed in the custody the Pakistani knowledge agents had started several years earlier. In 2014, Maniar had end up being friendly v a young brothers woman called Fatima Peer-Mohammed. Peer-Mohammed was a friend of his brothers wife and had met through Maniar throughout visits the made come the U.K. The two occurred a bond, mostly ongoing over WhatsApp messages while he remained in the U.S., end their common interest in the humanitarian situation then emerging in Syria.

At the exact same time, Peer-Mohammed’s society media posts were independently bringing her to the fist of british intelligence, i m sorry had become by alarmed by reports of british citizens travel to Syria to join the dispute or expressing assistance for extremist teams there.

At the finish of 2014, ~ a variety of prior visits, Peer-Mohammed’s residence was raided by protection officials. After looking the house, castle confiscated she digital devices, consisting of the phone call on which she’d chatted ~ above WhatsApp through Maniar. In may 2015, Maniar’s then-wife called and told him that Peer-Mohammed had been arrested by british counterterrorism police. She was now in custody on terror charges regarded her society media posts, and authorities were additionally asking questions around Peer-Mohammed’s brother, that they had suspected of traveling to Syria to sign up with an extremist group. Maniar’s wife had actually other bad news for him: British intelligence agents had stopped through her house to interview her together well, asking number of questions about Maniar himself.

Within a couple of weeks the Peer-Mohammed’s arrest, the FBI contacted Maniar by phone at his residence in California, questioning for one interview. Top top the advice of a friend, who had actually told him never to speak the FBI there is no a lawyer, he told them that he had actually nothing come say. But after declining that early stage interview, his problems started multiplying. Maniar ran an virtual kitchenware business and also frequently traveled roughly the United claims by air. While he had actually never skilled travel troubles before, on the an initial flight he took after that speak to from the FBI, the noticed the his boarding overcome had started printing out the “SSSS” notification: a security tag flagging that for additional scrutiny. On several subsequent flights he skilled unexplained delays gaining a boarding pass. Top top a trip to Toronto in February 2016, that was quit for several hrs at the Canadian border after getting here by air, an endure that was recurring on his return journey to California by U.S. Customs and also Border Protection. After the ill-fated journey, Maniar booked a meeting v the FBI at your West Covina branch office in the hopes of dispelling everything scrutiny he was under. Throughout that meeting, follow to Maniar, the FBI called him the they had actually no an adverse information around 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 arranged by the brother nongovernmental organization Live Updates native Syria. On the trip, the traveled through several various other British activists, cross the Turkish border with Syria and also posting on society media for 2 weeks from the town of Atmeh, where he and also others distributed food, medicine, and clothing to displaced refugees. Upon his return to the united States, he to be briefly taken aside and also questioned again by CBP agents however experienced no various other problems and was permitted to continue home.

Maniar started noticing disturbing things after that trip, however. Weird cars would certainly be parked outside his house for days. Once he left the house, the cars would occasionally follow him as he walk on errands to the grocery keep or mosque. On numerous occasions, according to Maniar and also documented in court records outlining his experiences, helicopters loudly hovered low over his house for prolonged periods that time while he was there with his family. In may 2017, when he landed on the airport because that a trip to Dubai, several plainclothes FBI agents were waiting for him in ~ the check-in desk. They notified him the he would not be permitted to board his flight, prior to telling him to go home immediately and following the in their cars.

In the beforehand morning hours of December 14, 2017, Maniar to be at house with his mommy when that heard a long banging top top the door. That roused himself from bed and also saw dozens the FBI agents who had actually a warrant come raid his home, ostensibly top top allegations of harassing his wife, from whom he had end up being estranged after the arrest that Peer-Mohammed. Because that several hrs the agents raided his house and took electronics, when he and his mother sat handcuffed exterior in the driveway. Maniar was no charged with any type of crime. However they to be doing a full-court push to discover something.

“I felt like I to be an invest for them: favor they’d invest so much money and also time right into investigating me, and also now they just wanted to get a return.”
“I do the efforts to be as open up as I could with the FBI, wanted to tell them that i am not a threat and to leaving me alone. I’m a service person so ns know around profiles, and when who fits mine profile because that a client I seek them like a shark. Once this was happening, ns felt choose that was specifically how castle were dealing with me,” Maniar said. “I felt like I was an invest for them: choose they’d invested so lot money and also time into investigating me, and also now they just wanted to acquire a return.”

A couple of days after ~ the raid, Maniar saw the airport to catch an additional flight and was again stopped at the airport by FBI agents who had been waiting for him at the check-in desk. When again lock prevented him from boarding and told the to walk home.

Maniar had little understanding of nationwide security law. Yet by this time he had actually done enough of his very own research digital to know that he to be on the federal government no-fly list. He contacted a lawyer, who initiated a procedure with the room of Homeland security to identify whether he to be listed. Month later, in June 2018, he obtained a letter confirming that he was on the no-fly list however with no details about the factor for his placement. Upon more pressure from his lawyer, homeland Security noted a paper confirming the he was “on the U.S. Government’s No Fly perform due to, in part, association and extensive communication with a recognized extremist located in the united kingdom who has actually supported terror organizations.”

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

On august 22, 2020, after several years of litigation, Maniar lastly received a letter indigenous the department of Homeland protection that cleared him indigenous the list and also stated the he was no a hazard to fly. As far as that knew, his name was cleared. Maniar booked a flight scheduled because that one main later, come visit his new wife’s household in Pakistan, with a short stopover in Turkey. That was eager to take some time away after the year of stress and paranoia he had actually experienced in the joined States. It was an alleged to be a relaxing trip.

Under a black color Hood

After being interrogated because that several hrs by ISI agents in ~ the airport, much of it through a black hood end his head, Maniar was taken, quiet hooded, come a loading area of Karachi global Airport and placed right into an SUV along with several ISI agents.

“At this point, my knees to be shaking, ns knew ns was done for, and also my family was never going to check out me again,” that recalled.

After being driven for about half an hour, Maniar was required to a structure inside a gated compound and left in a little brown-carpeted office through himself. Hooded v his hand cuffed in front, he satellite for a full day by himself in silence, sometimes hearing yelling and also what he thought were muffled screams coming v the walls. He had had no possibility to tell his household where he was or what had actually happened at the airport. End the food of about three days, Maniar was preserved in custody, questioned by a rotating collection of Pakistani interrogators. Lock asked the questions around Syria, and various terrorist teams in Pakistan roughly the world. At times they vaguely endangered him that things were going to become “very difficult” if he no tell castle what they wanted to hear.

Left alone for hours in the interrogation room, Maniar would sometimes work the bag off his head and also look roughly at the empty brown-carpeted room that had actually suddenly condensed to become his whole world.

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

On the 4th day, an interrogator came and also brought him a breakfast that paratha and chai. Over the previous three work of interrogation, Maniar had told his Pakistani interrogators the totality story that his ex-wife and her friend in England, including Peer-Mohammed, and his problems with the U.S. Government and the no-fly list and also how that had led come the breakup of his marriage. This interrogator, who unlike the others wore a suit, tie, and immaculately shined dress shoes, said him that from the view of the Pakistani federal government they had no problem with Maniar, yet that the U.S. Had actually shared info flagging him together a feasible terrorist.

Since he had disappeared in ~ the airport, Maniar’s family members had to be furiously contacting public representative in Pakistan and also at the U.S. Embassy make the efforts to find out what had actually happened to him. His interrogator now told him the he’d informed them that he to be safe and would shortly be released. But he also advised the to publication a flight out of the nation within the next couple of days and also go earlier to the unified States and sort the end whatever difficulty he had actually with the U.S. Government there before returning.

Maniar was relieved but likewise demoralized. That was no free, ~ all, regardless of the year of effort he had spent trying to clean his name. Together instructed, he booked a flight earlier to the joined States. At Atlanta’s worldwide airport, as Maniar disembarked from the plane, that spotted 2 Homeland protection officials that were scanning the group of passengers. “As soon as I witnessed them, ns walked up, i 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 about 30 minutes of discussion of his trip. The told them about his detention in Pakistan and also the ISI agent’s statement that he had been flagged as a terror by the U.S. Government, in spite of his clearance from the no-fly list. The agents told that they had actually no idea about any of this, prior to letting him continue home.

The FBI and also the department of countryside Security decreased to comment because that this story.

An arbitrarily System

The arbitrary, opaque nature that the watchlisting system and the dangers that it deserve to pose to people while travel abroad have actually been criticized for years by polite liberties experts, many of whom who have likewise cautioned versus recent phone call to broaden the system to resolve 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. If unconfirmed, the possible listing come months after ~ top democratic officials referred to as for widening the watchlisting mechanism to combat the threat of domestic extremism.

Maniar is presently fighting in court to have his name eliminated from what his lawyer trust is the selectee list, one of the other mystery lists developed from the terrorist Screening Database. Back the department of Homeland defense has shown to that in writing that he is clearing to paris by removing the from the no-fly list, winning that fight method little if every foreign nation he arrives in has actually him flagged as a potential terrorist due to the fact that of his existence on part other mystery database, or since information has been shared with foreign governments the he is a danger yet follow-up messages clearing him never reach them.

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Maniar has since worked out into a quiet residential life v his new wife and their newborn child. Regardless of persistent fears and also paranoia every time the boards a flight, Maniar continues to operation his service while trying to live as normally as possible. However the yearslong endure of gift surveilled, watchlisted, and also even detained v seemingly no method of clearing his name has left him feeling psychologically homeless.

“I feeling sad and practically betrayed together an American citizen due to the fact that I assumed I had actually all these rights, and also as a taxpayer, if ns paying money, that they usage it to pursue criminals,” Maniar said from his brand-new home in Texas. “It renders me sad because when girlfriend don’t have actually a federal government that has your back, you feel virtually alienated. You feel prefer an alien that doesn’t belong anywhere.”

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