- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

HARRISBURG, Pa. | A commercial airline pilot who believes his job was threatened because his name was on a secret terrorist watch list is being allowed to resume flying, according to a letter his lawyers released Tuesday. The pilot claims he was put on the list because he is Muslim.

The two-sentence letter from Colgan Air Inc. to the federal Transportation Security Administration confirmed that the Manassas, Va.-based regional carrier was allowing Erich Scherfen to return to work. It did not mention any watch list or the reason that the company suspended the pilot in April.

Mr. Scherfen, a New Jersey native who converted to Islam in 1994, and his wife, a native of Pakistan who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1980, sued the federal government last month. They claim their names were placed on the list because of their Muslim faith, in violation of their constitutional rights.

His lawyers filed papers Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Scranton to withdraw a related request for a court order to stop Mr. Scherfen’s scheduled Oct. 1 termination. Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie has scheduled a Sept. 18 hearing on that request.

“The immediate harm to Erich is over,” said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “He’s back at work.”

Mr. Scherfen, 37, a Gulf War veteran, had worked for Colgan for about a year when he was suspended. Both he and his wife, who sells Islamic books and other media from their home in Schuylkill County, have said they have no criminal records or ties to terrorists.

Mark A. Dombroff, the Colgan lawyer who wrote the letter to the TSA, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Colgan Air operates as Continental Connection, United Express and US Airways Express.

The Justice Department has declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a statement issued when the lawsuit was filed, it said the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, “for both national security and personal privacy reasons,” does not confirm or deny the existence of any name on the watch lists it maintains.

Since 2006, Mr. Scherfen and his wife have been subjected to searches, questioning and detention at airports and border crossings, according to their lawsuit. They say ticket agents and others made vague references to their names being on lists, but there was no clear explanation for the extra scrutiny.

Mr. Walczak said Mr. Scherfen’s lawyers will press ahead with the main lawsuit.

The couple “still don’t know what lists they are on, why they are on them or how to get off them,” he said.

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