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Arab American Detained After Blast Sues U.S.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Jordanian American from Oklahoma City sued the U.S. government on Thursday, complaining that he was photographed, fingerprinted, strip-searched and handcuffed over a three-day period in which he was falsely accused in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building here.

Abraham Ahmad, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, broke down in tears as he announced the $1.9-million lawsuit at a press conference near where the Murrah building once stood.

He was detained and released by federal agents in Chicago and the Washington area after the bombing. He was stopped in Chicago on the day of the blast while on his way to visit relatives in Jordan. The government believed at the time that the bombing might have been the work of Middle Eastern terrorists.

Ahmad faltered as he described how his wife and two young daughters had heard his name in national media reports and how groups of angry Oklahoma City residents had spat and thrown trash on his lawn.

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“The FBI and other authorities should follow every lead that might uncover a criminal,” said Ahmad, a 32-year-old naturalized American citizen who moved to this country a dozen years ago to study computer programming.

“But this must be based on the facts and not on stereotypes. My detention and mistreatment by federal authorities did not just humiliate me and traumatize my family, but the entire Arab and Muslim American community as well.”

Ahmad is suing the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and government immigration officials--all of whom he said jumped to the conclusion that his Middle Eastern ancestry made him a possible suspect. The April 19 explosion resulted in the deaths of 169 people and injuries to 600 more.

Federal officials declined to respond to the lawsuit, citing government policies that do not allow comment about pending legal action. But in the days after Ahmad was released from federal custody, some federal officials tried to make clear that he was not a suspect in the Oklahoma City tragedy.

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Ahmad said it was mere coincidence that he was leaving the country on the day of the bombing. He flew first to Chicago, where he heard about the bombing on airport television sets as he waited to board another plane for Rome.

He was detained in Chicago and questioned at length by federal officials, missing his flight to Rome. He flew instead to London, where he was detained and questioned by British officials. He then was returned to the Washington area, questioned further and finally permitted to go home to Oklahoma City.

“It is wrong to target someone in a criminal investigation based on cultural stereotypes instead of evidence,” said Louis M. Bograd, his ACLU attorney. “Arab Americans have been subject to a great deal of prejudice and discrimination, both before and after the bombing.”

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