Five American Muslims filed a lawsuit against FBI Director Christopher Wray and other members of the government because they believe they were put on a terrorist watch list without due process.
The complaint, filed Wednesday to the district court for the Northern District of Texas, says that the plaintiffs are victims of racial profiling and have suffered negative consequences due to their inclusion on the list.
The Terrorist Screening Database, a federal list of terror suspects, is a secret list compiled by the FBI, and it’s impossible for people to verify whether or not they have been included on it. But lawyers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, say people who are on the list know they were included because they are frequently harassed by law enforcement officials and consistently have their rights violated. Often they are singled out at airports by having the letters SSSS stamped on their boarding passes.
“There is no confirmation, but it’s something that we gather from these individuals’ experiences,” Nikiya Natale, a legal director for CAIR in Texas, told Newsweek. “At CAIR we encourage people to report anti-Muslim bias and any sort of hate or bias they experience, and we respond to cases of discrimination or harassment.”
Abraham Sbyti, a 45-year-old based in Texas, told Newsweek he has been stopped and questioned by law enforcement officials in airports 24 times since 2014. Sbyti, who is employed as an air-conditioning technician, is originally from Iraq and was re-settled in the U.S. as a refugee in 2000. He obtained citizenship in 2005 and lives with his wife in Texas, but he visits his mother in Lebanon a few times a year.
“All of a sudden, after November 2014, I found myself getting randomly searched at the airport. In 2014 they started searching me; I went through the search. They said it was a random check. They started asking me if I go to the mosque, and I answered all of their questions,” Sbyti explained to Newsweek.
“This has happened 24 times—every time I leave the country. They are so nice in America, honestly, they are nice. But my wife and I have to wait hours while they ask questions.”
Lawyers for CAIR say Sbyti and many others like him are victims of racial profiling.
“Many Americans, including children, end up on the secret federal terror watch list…based on mere guesses, hunches, and conjecture and even simply based on matters of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or the exercise of their constitutional rights,” the lawsuit reads.
“Through extrajudicial and secret means, the federal government is ensnaring individuals into an invisible web of consequences that are imposed indefinitely and without recourse as a result of the shockingly large federal terror watch list that now includes hundreds of thousands of individuals.”
FBI Director Wray, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas Rasmussen and the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center Charles Kable are all named in the lawsuit, among others.
In addition to the case in Texas, CAIR currently has seven similar cases open in states like Florida, Virginia, Michigan, Oregon and Utah, lawyers told Nesweek. In 2016, a lawsuit was filed in Virginia that included the case of a 7-month-old baby who was singled out at airports like Sbyti. The case is still ongoing.
The FBI declined to comment on the lawsuit.