- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Less than four hours after landing in the U.S., Yonas Fikre was back in the mosque at the center of his five-year exile and alleged torture at the FBI’s behest.

One after another, men came up to him, embracing him and shaking his hand. They smiled and patted him on the back as they welcomed him home.

The warm reception surprised him, even though he hadn’t seen his Portland friends since 2009. He’s been on the no-fly list for years and had been looking at multiple charges, since dropped, in federal court.

“You always think, maybe they gave up on you,” Fikre, 36, said, sitting in the library of Masjed As-Saber, Portland’s largest Sunni mosque.

The Eritrean-born U.S. citizen’s saga began in 2010 when, he claims, he was approached by two FBI agents in Sudan. They pressured him to become an informant on the mosque and told him he’d face repercussions if he refused, he said.



Refuse he did. About a year later, the suit claims, secret police in United Arab Emirates picked him up, holding him for 106 days. He was tortured, made to sleep almost naked on a cold floor, beaten on the soles of his feet and forced into stress positions, the lawsuit claims.

“It dehumanizes you,” he said. “It destroys you.”

The FBI was behind it, Fikre said his interrogator told him.

Fikre was released without charges and sought asylum in Sweden. Because he was on the no-fly list, he was barred from returning to the U.S. on a commercial flight.

Sweden rejected the request three years later, but chartered a private jet to return him to the states, his attorney Thomas Nelson said.

His stay in Sweden turned out to be a blessing of sorts, giving him the time and sense of safety to recuperate from his ordeal in the U.A.E., he said.

“I feel like maybe I can live again,” he said.

On Friday, stretching his legs after more than 24 hours without sleep, Fikre said he won’t seek asylum elsewhere. Portland is home, he said.

“I plan to lead a normal life, and I plan to get off the no-fly list.”

The no-fly list is a secret roster meant to keep suspected terrorists from flying in or over the U.S. Civil liberties advocates have long protested the difficulty in challenging one’s place on the list.

Fikre is suing the FBI, the National Security Agency and the federal government, among others, for putting him on the no-fly list and for the torture and other abuse he claims he suffered in U.A.E.

Nelson filed the most recent complaint in October, and he’s still waiting for a response from the defendants. He’s seeking an injunction that would remove Fikre from the list and at least $10 million in damages.

Portland FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele issued a statement saying that the agency holds a fundamental core value that every person has the right to live, work and worship in the U.S. without fear, and that FBI agents take an oath to uphold those rights.

Despite having no plans to leave the country, Fikre said he’ll always have some doubt about his safety in the U.S. He’ll always wonder whether the torture’s over, he said.

What he does appear to have is the support of his mosque. Sheikh Mohamed Kariye, himself a former FBI target, said he was happy to see Fikre safe at home.

“All of us, we like to be in a safe place with our family,” he said.

And Fikre seemed confident that that’s exactly where he was.

“I’ll pull through,” Fikre said. “I’ve got a strong community.”

___

Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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