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Oak Gdns man on no-fly list now back home

Oakland Gardens native Samir Suljovic, 26, is back in Queens after spending nearly a month in Germany unable to return home.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A 26-year-old Oakland Gardens man finally returned home Monday night after being stranded in Europe for 22 days by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which said he was on their no-fly list.

Around 9 p.m. Monday night, Samir Suljovic, who was born and raised in Oakland Gardens, arrived in New York at Penn Station to cap off a nearly monthlong journey back home after he initially boarded a flight to Montenegro to visit family and friends.

When he tried to return home Oct. 1, airline agents in Austria said DHS and Customs had asked foreign authorities to prevent him from boarding his flight, according to the Council on American-Islamic relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group.

“What Samir thought would be a nice vacation to visit friends in Montenegro has turned into a nightmare for him and his mother,” the group said in a public call to action as it pushed for Suljovic’s return home.

The Department of Homeland Security did not return calls for comment.

Upon learning he was being barred from flying home, Suljovic said he reached out to his Homeland Security liaison at John F. Kennedy International Airport, but did not receive any response. He also said he sought assistance from the United States embassy in Munich, but the council known as CAIR-NY said he was instead interrogated and searched without permission.

And by Monday night, Suljovic had finally returned to the United States, but not without one last struggle. According to CAIR-NY, the Oakland Gardens man was interrogated by government officials for more than an hour in Philadelphia and consequently missed his connecting flight to New York, which was why he took a train to Penn Station.

“We are glad to welcome Samir back home, and to reaffirm that American Muslims have the same right to due process as all other Americans,” said Muneer Awad, the CAIR-NY executive director. “Samir is back in the United States because it is his right to be here. It is his right today and it was his right 22 days ago when our government prevented him from boarding any return flight home.”

Calls to Suljovic’s Oakland Gardens home were not immediately returned.

From the United States, Awad said CAIR-NY had reached out to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and the United States embassy in Munich to seek explanations as to why Suljovic was being blocked from returning home to Queens. The group addressed a letter to the various government officials expressing concern with the government’s role in preventing Suljovic’s return.

“The denial of Mr. Suljovic’s right to return home without due process of law constitutes a grave violation of his civil rights and liberties,” the letter read. “Instead of protecting this young U.S. citizen while he traveled abroad, the government has effectively stranded him in an unfamiliar country without shelter or protection.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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