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Utah Muslim leader closer to home, but again delayed by restrictions

FILE— Imam Yussuf Abdi speaks during a press conference at the Madina Masjid Mosque in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 10, 2017, after two members of the congregation were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
FILE— Imam Yussuf Abdi speaks during a press conference at the Madina Masjid Mosque in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 10, 2017, after two members of the congregation were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The leader of a Salt Lake mosque and his family finally were able to leave Kenya, but his much-anticipated arrival in Utah is again delayed by flight restrictions and they now are waiting at LAX for permission to return to their home here.

Imam Yusuf Abdi, a U.S. citizen since 2010, tried to fly his wife and children home to Salt Lake on Tuesday, but he was stopped in Kenya.

While Abdi was stuck in Kenya, members of the Utah based Refugee Justice League teamed with the Coalition on American-Islamic Relations and prepared emergency legal action in U.S. District Court for Utah, moving against several federal agencies.

A motion filed with the lawsuit demanded Abdi’s return home, and for a time on Saturday, there were hopes that he could be back in time to lead his congregation, the Madina Masjid, for the most important last nights of the holy month of Ramadan.

Abdi’s family was issued tickets to fly into Los Angeles, but Abdi was again separated from them in Kenya and forced to take a later flight, passing through Qatar.

Eventually Abdi was able to reunite with his family on Saturday, but he was prevented from flying on the final leg of the journey to Salt Lake by a series of targeted searches.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with the Coalition on American-Islamic Relations, said Abdi had been on a list for targeted searches for several years. Abbas said that while the targeted searches had been inconvenient and embarrassing, Abdi had still been able to travel. But an airline worker in Nairobi informed Abdi that he was on the no-fly list and that he could not board his plane home.

On Saturday night, members of his congregation who had gathered at the Salt Lake City airport broke into chanting “We want Abdi home" after learning that he had again been delayed.

"What Abdi and his family have gone through, you just can't make this up," said Brad Parker, an attorney with the Refugee Justice League. "This poor family, since Wednesday, has been promised that they could return to the United States and every time that promise is made, the door is slammed shut."

Parker said the family has been delayed for the fifth time in their efforts to return home.

"This case is a test for the Trump administration to see what length it will go to abuse the oppressive tools that it inherited from the Obama administration," Abbas said.

Abbas said the no-fly list was "unacceptable, and illegal and unconstitutional," and described the list as the approximation of President Donald Trump's talks of a Muslim registry.

Abbas said that innocent Muslims are placed on the no-fly list without guilt of a crime, adding that if they had committed a crime, they would have simply been arrested.

Lena Masri, another attorney with CAIR, explained that the lawsuit filed on Abdi's behalf hoped to bring him home, remove his name from the targeted list and ultimately do away with the no-fly list.

While Abdi's attorneys hope he will be permitted to return home on Sunday afternoon, they are preparing to take further legal action in the event that he is again delayed with continued targeted searches.