S. Africa, U.S. Dispute Al-Qaida Allegations

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The U.S. has branded two South African citizens as suspected al-Qaida members and is urging the U.N. to do the same. That doesn't sit well with South African officials and public opinion in South Africa questions the accuracy of the accusations.


What is it? Wednesday morning? Wednesday morning. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Yes, it is Wednesday morning.

The United States has placed two South African men on its list of al-Qaida suspects and wants the United Nations to do the same. Both men deny the allegations. South African officials are withholding judgment pending new information. But they and a growing number of South Africans believe the men are being targeted unfairly.

NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Azan, the Muslim call to prayer, heard in neighborhoods all over South Africa. Muslims are a small minority here, about 2 percent of the population, but they've lived here for generations in peace.

However, the United States in recent days has accused some of them of aiding terrorists, a charge that's tarring many with the same brush as they travel outside the country.

Mr. ZAHIR ADAM(ph) (Attorney): They were sent back from Senegal, saying that they were not allowed into the United States because - for whatever reason. No explanation was given to them.

HUNTER-GAULT: Zahir Adam is an attorney representing 11 Muslims who insist their rights have been violated by the United States solely because of their religious beliefs.

Mr. ADAM: They asked my client whether or not he knew the Koran verbatim, whether he had been to Afghanistan, whether he knew how to make bombs.

HUNTER-GAULT: The 11 men have appealed to the South African government to find out why they are being listed and to take steps to fight this international oppression, in their words. Others denied admission to the United States include research professor Adam Habib, who earned his Ph.D. in political science from New York City University and has traveled in and out of the United States dozens of times since. He was detained at the airport in New York as he arrived last October for meetings. A former anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned by the apartheid regime, Habib says his detention without explanation reminded him of those days.

Professor ADAM HABIB (Director, Human Sciences Research Council): The kinds of questions that were asked and the fact that there are whole series of foot soldiers who would not argue what the rules were. The fact that they treated everybody with suspicion and a kind of formal politeness, but that you knew underneath was contemptuous of who you are and where you came from. That message came out all the time.

HUNTER-GAULT: But Habib says there was also another message.

Prof. HABIB: There was the old European who walked into the Homeland Security office. But, you know, everybody else was, anyone could argue, of Muslim origin. And this was a racial profiling of the worst kind.

HUNTER-GAULT: Habib was deported. And recently the visas of his wife and two children were revoked. Habib's 11-year-old son was preparing for a trip to United States with classmates to participate in a program aimed at helping students of the world get to know each other. The school cancelled the trip in protest.

Mr. AZIZ PAHAD (Deputy Prime Minister, South Africa): It's very wrong.

HUNTER-GAULT: South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad.

Mr. PAHAD: I have never had any indication that Professor Habib or his family were involved in any activities that can be widely called terrorism.

HUNTER-GAULT: Pahad says even his government can't find out why so many of its citizens are being blacklisted.

Mr. PAHAD: Absolute non-transparent process.

HUNTER-GAULT: A U.S. official speaking on background says they're looking into Professor Habib's case. And while the ruling was justified, the case he says poses challenges. But as in Habib's case and others, the officials said U.S. privacy law prohibits the release of any information on parties denied entry into the United States. Reports are there are more than 300,000 names of people around the world on the list, and growing.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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