A London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Maine yesterday (Sept. 21) when it was discovered passenger Yusuf Islam -- formerly known as singer Cat Stevens -- was on a government watch list and barr
A London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Maine yesterday (Sept. 21) when it was discovered passenger Yusuf Islam -- formerly known as singer Cat Stevens -- was on a government watch list and barred from entering the United States, federal officials said.
United Airlines Flight 919 was en route to Dulles International Airport when the match was made between a passenger and a name on the watch list, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. Federal agents met the plane at Maine's Bangor International Airport around 3 p.m., Melendez said.
Homeland Security Department spokesperson Dennis Murphy identified the passenger as Islam. "He was interviewed and denied admission to the United States on national security grounds," Murphy said, and was to be put on the first available flight out of the country today.
Officials had no details about why the peace activist might be considered a risk to the United States. Islam had traveled to New York in May to promote a DVD of his 1976 MajiKat tour, which included a visit to the offices of Billboard.
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Islam, 56, was identified by the Advanced Passenger Information System, which requires airlines to send passenger information to Customs and Border Protection's National Targeting Center. The Transportation Security Administration then was contacted and requested that the plane land at the nearest airport, that official said.
Melendez said FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials questioned Islam. Another federal official, who is in law enforcement and spoke anonymously because of agency policy, said that after the interview, Customs officials decided to deny Islam and his daughter entry into the United States.
Flight 919 eventually continued on to Dulles after Islam was removed from the flight.
Islam, who was born Stephen Georgiou, took Cat Stevens as a stage name and had a string of hits in the 1960s and '70s, including "Wild World" and "Morning Has Broken." Last year he released two songs, including a re-recording of his '70s anthem "Peace Train," to express his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
He abandoned his music career in the late 1970s and changed his name after being persuaded by orthodox Muslim teachers that his lifestyle was forbidden by Islamic law. He later became a teacher and an advocate for his religion, founding a Muslim school in London in 1983.
Islam drew some negative attention in the late 1980s when he supported the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence against Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses." Recently, though, Islam has criticized terrorist acts, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the school seizure in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month that left more than 300 dead, nearly half of them children.
"An old accusation emerged on the security computer system that was thoroughly investigated in the past and found to be unsubstantiated," says Islam's brother and business manager, David Gordon. "Yusuf has been cleared through many interviews and statements, specifically his recent VH1 interview, which addressed the history of these false allegations and reveals his moderate stance and peace-loving nature, as expressed throughout the years in his songs."
British rock act Marillion was on board the same flight as Islam. "We all had to get off the plane," says group member Steve Hogarth. "I then met a security guard who said the two people escorted off were Cat Stevens and his daughter. I was stunned. He is a pacifist and a great songwriter."