Nael Abodabba thinks hes on the Terrorist Watch List and doesnt know why.
The 47-year-old Charlotte businessman says hes been routinely harassed, intimidated and unfairly questioned by airport security officials sometimes for up to three or four hours.
Abodabba, who lives in Waxhaw, has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Charlotte against Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Timothy Healy, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center.
Abodabba says in the lawsuit that he has the right to be free from the false allegation that he is a terrorist or that he is associated with terrorist activities.
Abodabba alleges that, when hes trying to board airplanes, airport security authorities routinely ask him to step aside and question him at length in what he describes as an accusatory and derogatory manner.
Its embarrassing. Its very humiliating, Abodabba told the Observer on Tuesday. Ive asked why am I being treated like this. They wont tell me.
Abodabba, president of a wholesale distributor, said he has not missed a flight yet. But hes had some close calls. He now arrives at the airport four or five hours early. He drives rather than fly when he can.
He tries not to fly with his wife and three children. He puts them on other flights.
I dont want to put my family through this, Abodabba explained. I want to be able to fly with my family and go back to a normal life.
Abodabba describes himself in the lawsuit as a prominent businessman who flies once or twice a month for business.
Plaintiff does not know why he is allegedly included on the Terrorist Watch List, his lawsuit says. Government officials, it says, have been unable or unwilling to explain why he is on the list or how he can be removed from it.
The U.S. Department of Justice wouldnt talk about Abodabbas lawsuit. We have no comment, said Charles Miller, the spokesman for the Justice Departments civil division.
FAQs of the watch list
There were about 420,000 people on the Terrorist Watch List in September 2011, according to the FBI. The vast majority about 98 percent are not U.S. citizens.
The FBIs website provides a series of often-asked questions about the Terrorist Watch List.
One frequently asked question: I have been told that I am on a terrorist watchlist by an airline employee and I frequently have difficulty when I fly. Does this mean I am in the TSDB (Terrorist Screening Database)?
The answer, the FBI says, is no.
However, an individual may be a misidentified person, the FBI says. A misidentified person is someone who is experiencing a delay during screening because they have a similar name to a person in the TSDB. Misidentified persons are sometimes delayed while the government works to distinguish them from the terrorist in the TSDB.
In September, another local resident found himself accused of being on the watch list.
Police arrested a 27-year-old Charlotte activist for a traffic violation and sought to keep him in jail during the Democratic National Convention because an officer said he was on the list.
James Ian Tysons bail was set at $10,000 for driving while license revoked.
Tyson, who eventually posted bond, said his arrest was politically motivated. I have done nothing wrong, he said afterward.
Im a local Charlottean, Im a farmer, Im a carpenter, Im a family member and a community member. I am not a terrorist.
Abodabba wants answers
Abodabba, in his lawsuit, notes that he is proud to be an American citizen and has been so for fifteen years.
Abodabbas points out in his lawsuit that its not known what standards are used to place people on the watch list. He alleges that the defendants named in his lawsuit have failed to provide a fair and transparent remedial mechanism that would allow people to challenge their inclusion on it.
The single remedy, Abodabba says, is for those on the Terrorist Watch List to file a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program complaint with the Department of Homeland Security. Abodabba says hes filed such a complaint but the defendants have failed to take him off the Terrorist Watch List.
The Department of Homeland Security, he alleges, responds with a vague and confusing letter that neither confirms nor denies the existence of any terrorist watch list records related to the individual. Researcher Maria David contributed to this story.