A Culver City man who was detained for nearly a week in Egypt said Friday that his ordeal ended as it began: in utter mystery.
Abdul Ghafoor Mahboob, a 26-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, said in a telephone interview from London that he was released Thursday with no explanation as to why he was detained. But he said that he was beaten with a stick and kept handcuffed and blindfolded, and that he frequently awoke to the screams of others being tortured.
“Without my prayers, I would have gone crazy,” Mahboob said.
Officials with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, which was closed Friday for an Egyptian national holiday, could not be reached for comment.
Mahboob immigrated to the United States in 1988 and until last year worked as a fundraiser for an Islamic relief organization.
On Friday, July 16, he said, he was preparing to return to California after a seven-month stint studying Arabic when he was pulled aside at the Cairo airport for what security guards told him would be a routine check.
“I told them I had nothing to hide and if they had questions to ask them quickly because I didn’t want to miss my plane,” Mahboob said.
Some of the guards told the others to let him go, Mahboob said. But his pleas to call his family and U.S. Embassy officials in Cairo were ignored. Then, abruptly, Mahboob said, he was handcuffed, blindfolded and driven to a prison in an unknown location.
There, he was beaten on the thighs and jabbed in the stomach and head, he said. Mahboob was told if he didn’t stop screaming he would be severely beaten. Around him, he said, he could hear piercing screams from men being tortured with what sounded like electric probes. Trying to calm his fear, he said, he began praying to God to save both the other victims and himself.
On Saturday and Sunday, Mahboob said, he was interrogated. To his surprise, he said, he was asked no questions about his political views -- only routine inquiries about his family, education, past jobs, studies in Egypt and mosque affiliation in the United States.
By late Sunday, Mahboob said, he was told that everything had checked out and he would be released the next day. But it took until Thursday, after a campaign to publicize his case by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, for Mahboob to regain his freedom.
After he was brought to the airport, Mahboob said he chastised the Egyptian officials. “How can you do this? You’re playing with people’s lives who have done nothing wrong. What did I do? At least tell me why I was stopped.” The officials, he said, simply responded, “We don’t know.”
Islamic council spokeswoman Sabiha Khan said Friday that the council would file a formal complaint with the U.S. State Department and the Egyptian Embassy over Mahboob’s mistreatment and ask for an investigation. “We need to get to the bottom of this,” she said.
Mahboob, who planned to catch the first available flight to Los Angeles, had other priorities. The first thing he will do, he said, is “hug my mom.”