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

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As his plane touched under on the tarmac at Karachi worldwide Airport in august 2020, Ashraf Maniar lastly felt self relax. ~ a harrowing 24 hrs of travel, beginning from the unified States, connecting in Turkey, and also on come his final destination in Pakistan, that felt favor he to be on the threshold of resuming a regular life. Because that years, Maniar, a 30-year-old U.S. Citizens born and raised in California, had been life a life gripped through fear and also paranoia. A friendship that had grew years previously with a young woman in the unified Kingdom, who was later accused that extremism, had lugged him to the fist of protection officials in the U.S., bring about years the harassment, despite never any charges versus him.

Worst that all, throughout the years Maniar had been living under federal government suspicion, he had been can not to proceed his normal way of life of constant travel. After numerous failed attempts to plank flights, where he sometimes uncovered himself met through FBI agents at the airport that prevented that from boarding, his lawyers had actually undertaken a an extensive administrative procedure with the department of landscape Security and determined the he had actually been placed on the government’s secretive no-fly list. They released a legal effort to clear his name and also get the removed, which took several more years that fighting against an opaque system collection up through Homeland security to clandestinely blacklist suspected terrorists.

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

“For all the years due to the fact that my problems started, I had actually been nurtured come feel prefer I to be a criminal, particularly when i’m at a border or law anything government-related,” Maniar said. “So I had actually this letter clearing me gripped in mine hand.”

Disembarking indigenous his trip into the cavernous arrival terminal in ~ Karachi global Airport, Maniar, bleary-eyed indigenous his lengthy journey, joined the teeming crowds making their means toward customs. Waiting in the customizeds line, the scanned the group of travelers, numerous of them families, showing up from the united States and other Western countries to visit relatives. A family friend to be idling in a vehicle sent to pick him increase outside, and also relatives were wait to greet him at their home.


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Ashraf Maniar.

Photo: Pedro Armando Aparicio


When Maniar obtained to the prior of the personalizeds line, a young female agent take it his passport. She request a few brief questions around his stay, before pausing and turning to make a quick call out the earshot. Hanging up, she nodded to him that every little thing was in order. Maniar to be elated. After year of invariably being detained and also treated as a criminal in ~ every border the tried to cross, the felt he had lastly made his means back come freedom.

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

As his passport was stamped and also handed back to him, one invisible weight lifted turn off his shoulders. Pulling his carry-on behind him, he started picking up his procedures toward the package claim, feeling suddenly invigorated about what lay before him.

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

“Ashraf Maniar!”

Locking eye on him was a lanky, broad-shouldered guy with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a flowing beige shalwar kameez. The guy strode up to Maniar, towering end his thin 5-foot-9-inch frame, and also brusquely take it his passport, stating that he to be to follow him immediately. Maniar’s heart sank: He to be not complimentary after all. Struggling for some way to describe his convoluted administrative experience in the U.S. Come this security official in a strange nation that he had actually never visited, he pulled out the DHS letter clearing the from the no-fly list.

The guy took the record and looked at it for a moment without recognition, prior to repeating flatly that Maniar was to monitor him because that questioning.


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

Two of the men approximately placed Maniar under on a chair in the center room and handcuffed him v his eight in front. One of the agents asked why he was visiting Pakistan and also what the knew about the war in Syria. In thickly accented English, the agent claimed if Maniar didn’t truthfully tell them everything they want to know, “this is no going come be easy for you.”

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

Maniar claimed that that didn’t have actually anything come tell them. Frantically scanning his mind for something that can explain his instance to the ISI agents and get him out of this, he went earlier to the no-fly list letter. That one-page document, approve under the letterhead of the room of landscape Security, permit him come fly and also clearing his name of suspicions of terrorism earlier home, had been his ticket the end of the nightmare of regulation enforcement harassment the been experiencing for years. But somehow the article that he wasn’t a risk hadn’t been connected abroad.

Maniar make the efforts with boosting desperation to explain the letter and also how he had actually resolved his concerns in the unified States. As he was speaking, a black color bag came under over his head.


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A human being works in a room at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s national Targeting facility at one undisclosed place 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 developed an expansive watchlisting system for tracking individuals suspected that being national security threats. By 2013, a list known as the terrorist Screening Database — TSDB, much more commonly known as the terror watchlist — had grown to thousands of thousands of names. These were people, some American citizens, whom the federal government had blacklisted there is no due procedure for having possible ties to terrorist groups. Information from the terror watchlist was provided to construct various other lists offered to subject human being to included scrutiny in ~ borders, airports, or even throughout routine encounters v U.S. Law enforcement. Amongst these smaller sized lists to be the no-fly list that bars people from traveling by air, as well as another database dubbed the selectee list, i beg your pardon flags individuals for increase scrutiny at airports and border crossings.

In 2014, a significant investigation based on leaked files was published by The Intercept shedding irradiate on how the terrorist watchlist was constructed. A 166-page file titled “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” exposed a hidden program that blacklisted large numbers of people based on unchallengeable an enig criteria. The watchlisting guidance revealed the level of “derogatory information” that can lead to someone winding up on the list, exposing an opaque device with few checks and balances the was ripe because that abuse. It was easy to get yourself on the list and also suffer its consequences, but very daunting to know how to clear her name if girlfriend were actually innocent.


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Over the years, number of lawsuits were filed by people seeking to difficulty their consists on the list. After gift subjected to repetitive detention by U.S. Custom-mades officials after traveling abroad, a U.S. Citizen called Anas Elhady, along with two dozen various other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit over the watchlisting regime in 2016. A federal judge rule in 2019 that the watchlisting routine was unconstitutional.

In March, the U.S. Government efficiently appealed that ruling, leaving the watchlisting system in location for now. Yet court documents from the Elhady instance revealed some necessary details about the secretive program. In a explain of facts regarded the case, the U.S. Government disclosed that in June 2017 around 1.2 million world were contained on the watchlist, that whom around 4,600 were U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. The very same filing also helped show how the list can go global: “TSDB data is also shared with an ext than sixty international governments through which the TSC has gone into into international partner arrangements, which, topic to their domestic laws and the restrictions in the agreements, usage the info for terror screening purposes.”

Despite year of initiatives by polite liberties lawyers and also journalists, much around the watchlisting program remains unknown, including how information provided to build the list could be provided by foreign governments.

“We don’t have a lot of hard information around the type that information sharing agreements with foreign governments ~ above intelligence and the contents of the watchlist take. It’s no at all implausible that federal governments we share watchlist details with might go on and also share it v other governments or use it to produce their own knowledge commodities,” claimed Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney in the American civil Liberties Union’s national Security Project.

But, Handeyside added, the an easy fact the sharing details with international governments saying that someone might be a terrorist can produce enormous threats for them: “To the level that the U.S. Federal government is using and sharing watchlist info at all, that creates serious risks. You have the right to have a hell that a time clearing your name through the U.S. Government but still it is in detained, targeted, interrogated, or searched an extremely intensively abroad, based upon information about you that is outdated or inaccurate.”


When it involves the no-fly list specifically, U.S. Citizens and permanent residents deserve to now go v a legal procedure to eliminate themselves native the list. However even if they room cleared come fly, that remains possible that they can remain ~ above other secret lists or that an adverse information around them might wind up persisting ~ above databases kept by foreign governments. The dangers of this can be really serious, an especially when individuals who have been watchlisted room traveling to foreign countries where legal protections are weak.

“The whole watchlisting enterprise is predicated on the idea of guilt by association,” claimed Gadeir Abbas a employee attorney for the council on American-Islamic relationships who represented individuals on the watchlist. “People are associated to others based upon their associations, and based on those associations, potentially figured out to be higher risk and also subject to an ext scrutiny.”

It was the formula that guilt-by-association that got Maniar listed in the first place, trapping the in a web of difficulties from which there appeared to be no escape.


The SSSS Notification

The chain of events that ended up v Maniar hooded and also handcuffed in the custody of Pakistani knowledge agents had begun several years earlier. In 2014, Maniar had end up being friendly with a young brother woman named Fatima Peer-Mohammed. Peer-Mohammed was a girlfriend of his british wife and had met with Maniar throughout visits that made come the U.K. The two developed a bond, mostly continued over WhatsApp messages while he was in the U.S., over their mutual interest in the humanitarian dilemm then emerging in Syria.

At the same time, Peer-Mohammed’s social media posts were separately bringing she to the fist of british intelligence, i m sorry had become by alarm by reports of brother citizens traveling to Syria to join the conflict or expressing assistance for extremist teams there.

At the end of 2014, after ~ a variety of prior visits, Peer-Mohammed’s residence was raided by defense officials. After browsing the house, lock confiscated her digital devices, including the phone call on i m sorry she’d chatted on WhatsApp with Maniar. In might 2015, Maniar’s then-wife called and told him the Peer-Mohammed had been arrested by british counterterrorism police. She was now in custody on terrorism charges concerned her social media posts, and also authorities were also asking questions about Peer-Mohammed’s brother, who they had suspected of travel to Syria to sign up with an extremist group. Maniar’s wife had actually other bad news because that him: British intelligence agents had actually stopped by her house to interview her together well, asking several questions about Maniar himself.

Within a couple of weeks that Peer-Mohammed’s arrest, the FBI contacted Maniar through phone in ~ his house in California, asking for an interview. On the advice the a friend, who had actually told him never to speak the FBI without a lawyer, he told them the he had nothing come say. But after decreasing that early interview, his problems started multiplying. Maniar ran an digital kitchenware business and also frequently traveled approximately the United claims by air. While he had actually never knowledgeable travel troubles before, top top the first flight he took after that contact from the FBI, that noticed that his boarding passes had started printing out the “SSSS” notification: a security tag flagging that for added scrutiny. On numerous subsequent flights he skilled unexplained delays acquiring a boarding pass. On a trip to Toronto in February 2016, the was stopped for several hrs at the Canadian border after arriving by air, an endure that was repeated on his return trip to California by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After that ill-fated journey, Maniar booked a meeting v the FBI at their West Covina branch office in the really hopes of dispelling every little thing scrutiny he to be under. Throughout that meeting, follow to Maniar, the FBI called him the they had actually no an adverse information about him and also expressed no objection come him continuing to travel.

In the summer that 2016, Maniar travel to Saudi Arabia top top a spiritual pilgrimage prior to heading to Turkey to sign up with a charity convoy trip arranged by the british nongovernmental company Live Updates from Syria. On that trip, he traveled v several other British activists, crossing the Turkish border v Syria and posting on society media for two weeks indigenous the city of Atmeh, where he and others spread food, medicine, and clothing come displaced refugees. Top top his return to the united States, he to be briefly take away aside and also questioned again by CBP agents yet experienced no various other problems and was enabled to proceed home.

Maniar started noticing disturbing points after the trip, however. Strange cars would certainly be parked exterior his house for days. As soon as he left the house, the dare would sometimes follow him together he went on errands come the grocery store or mosque. On number of occasions, follow to Maniar and documented in court papers outlining his experiences, helicopters loudly hovered short over his residence for expanded periods that time while he was there with his family. In may 2017, when he landed on the airport because that a expedition to Dubai, number of plainclothes FBI agents were wait for him at the check-in desk. They informed him the he would certainly not be enabled to board his flight, prior to telling him come go house immediately and also following that in their cars.

In the early morning hrs of December 14, 2017, Maniar was at residence with his mother when that heard a long banging top top the door. He roused self from bed and also saw dozens of FBI agents who had actually a warrant come raid his home, ostensibly ~ above allegations that harassing his wife, from whom he had come to be estranged after the arrest that Peer-Mohammed. For several hrs the agents raided his house and took electronics, when he and his mother sat handcuffed exterior in the driveway. Maniar was not charged with any crime. But they were doing a full-court press to find something.


“I felt choose I to be an invest for them: prefer they’d invested so lot money and time right into investigating me, and now they simply wanted to gain a return.”
“I do the efforts to be as open as I can with the FBI, want to tell castle that i am not a threat and to leave me alone. Ns a business person so i know about profiles, and also when someone fits my profile for a client I go after them prefer a shark. When this was happening, ns felt prefer that was precisely how castle were dealing with me,” Maniar said. “I felt favor I was an investment for them: favor they’d invest so much money and also time right into investigating me, and now they just wanted to gain a return.”

A few days after ~ the raid, Maniar checked out the airport come catch an additional flight and also was again stopped at the airport by FBI agents who had been waiting for him in ~ the check-in desk. As soon as again lock prevented the from boarding and also told that to go home.

Maniar had little understanding of national security law. Yet by this time he had actually done enough of his very own research online to recognize that he to be on the federal government no-fly list. He contacted a lawyer, that initiated a procedure with the room of Homeland security to identify whether he to be listed. Months later, in June 2018, he received a letter confirming the he was on the no-fly list but with no details about the reason for his placement. Upon more pressure indigenous his lawyer, countryside Security listed a document confirming the he was “on the U.S. Government’s No Fly perform due to, in part, association and also extensive interaction with a known extremist situated in the uk who has actually supported terror organizations.”

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

On august 22, 2020, after number of years of litigation, Maniar finally received a letter native the department of Homeland defense that cleared him indigenous the list and stated that he was no a risk to fly. As much as that knew, his surname was cleared. Maniar booked a flight scheduled because that one week later, to visit his brand-new wife’s household in Pakistan, v a quick stopover in Turkey. That was passionate to take some time far after the year of stress and also paranoia he had actually experienced in the unified States. The was an alleged to it is in a be sure trip.


Under a black Hood

After gift interrogated for several hrs by ISI agents at the airport, much of it through a black hood end his head, Maniar was taken, still hooded, come a loading area that Karachi international Airport and placed into an SUV together with several ISI agents.

“At this point, mine knees were shaking, i knew ns was excellent for, and also my household was never going to view me again,” the recalled.

After being driven for about half an hour, Maniar was taken to a structure inside a gated compound and also left in a tiny brown-carpeted office by himself. Hooded v his hands cuffed in front, he sat for a full day by himself in silence, sometimes hearing yelling and also what he assumed were muffled screams coming v the walls. He had had no opportunity to call his family members where he to be or what had happened in ~ the airport. Over the food of roughly three days, Maniar was preserved in custody, wondered about by a rotating collection of Pakistani interrogators. Castle asked that questions about Syria, as well as various terrorist teams in Pakistan approximately the world. At times they vaguely intimidated him that points were walking to end up being “very difficult” if he no tell lock what they wanted to hear.

Left alone for hours in the interrogation room, Maniar would periodically work the bag turn off his head and look roughly at the north brown-carpeted room that had suddenly condensed to become his entire world.

“When you have a bag over her head that long, it becomes a satisfied to simply take the off and look around and also see light,” Maniar said. “At the exact same time, ns was looking around, and I’m thinking that I could not even think this is how far the U.S. Government would walk to harass me: They i will not ~ let me action on a plane, they wouldn’t let me step foot in an additional country, and now they had me lugged here and also were just leaving me.”

On the 4th day, an interrogator came and brought that a breakfast of paratha and also chai. Over the previous three days of interrogation, Maniar had actually told his Pakistani interrogators the totality story of his ex-wife and also her girlfriend in England, consisting of Peer-Mohammed, and also his problems with the U.S. Government and the no-fly list and also how that had actually led to the breakup of his marriage. This interrogator, who unlike the rather wore a suit, tie, and immaculately shined dress shoes, called him that from the perspective of the Pakistani government they had actually no trouble 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 been furiously contacting public official in Pakistan and also at the U.S. Embassy trying to find out what had actually happened come him. His interrogator currently told him the he’d educated them the he was safe and also would shortly be released. Yet he also advised him to publication a flight out the the country within the next few days and also go earlier to the joined States and also sort out whatever trouble he had actually with the U.S. Federal government there prior to returning.

Maniar to be relieved but also demoralized. He was no free, after ~ all, despite the year of effort he had actually spent do the efforts to clean his name. As instructed, that booked a flight back to the unified States. At Atlanta’s worldwide airport, together Maniar disembarked indigenous the plane, that spotted 2 Homeland defense officials who were scanning the group of passengers. “As soon as I saw them, ns walked up, i said, ‘I know you’re waiting for me, let’s simply go.’” The agents laughed and also took Maniar for questioning, letting him go after roughly 30 minute of conversation of his trip. That told them about his detention in Pakistan and also the ISI agent’s statement the he had been flagged together a terrorist by the U.S. Government, in spite of his clearance indigenous the no-fly list. The agents told the they had actually no idea about any of this, prior to letting him proceed home.

The FBI and also the room of landscape Security decreased to comment for this story.


An arbitrarily System

The arbitrary, opaque nature of the watchlisting system and also the dangers that it can pose to civilization while travel abroad have been criticized because that years by civil liberties experts, many of whom that have additionally cautioned versus recent call to broaden the device to attend to suspected domestic extremists.

In current months, right-wing figures, consisting of a far-right YouTube personality named Nicholas Fuentes, have allegedly been placed on the no-fly list. When unconfirmed, the possible listing come months after top autonomous officials referred to as for widening the watchlisting mechanism to combat the threat of residential extremism.

Maniar is presently fighting in court to have actually his name eliminated from what his lawyer believes is the selectee list, among the other an enig lists created from the terror Screening Database. Although the department of Homeland defense has confirmed to that in creating that that is clearing to paris by removing him from the no-fly list, winning that fight means little if every foreign nation he arrives in has him flagged as a potential terrorist since of his presence on part other an enig database, or because information has been common with international governments the he is a danger but follow-up messages clearing him never reach them.

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Maniar has actually since settled into a quiet residential life v his new wife and their newborn child. In spite of persistent fears and paranoia every time he boards a flight, Maniar continues to operation his organization while trying to live as normally as possible. But the yearslong experience of gift surveilled, watchlisted, and also even detained with seemingly no means of clearing his name has actually left him feeling psychologically homeless.

“I feel sad and virtually betrayed as an American citizen due to the fact that I thought I had actually all this rights, and also as a taxpayer, if ns paying money, that they use it to go after criminals,” Maniar stated from his brand-new home in Texas. “It provides me sad since when you don’t have actually a government that has actually your back, friend feel virtually alienated. You feel like an alien who doesn’t belong anywhere.”


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