Ethiopia Continues to Hold U.S. Man, Frustrating Family
TRENTON, N.J. — The family of a U.S. citizen being held in Ethiopia has grown increasingly frustrated that he remains detained despite reports that he would be released.
A congressman’s office said this month that Amir Meshal, 24, would soon be freed. But Ethiopia then changed its mind, according to an internal U.S. government document that was disclosed last week.
“It was an emotional roller coaster for us,” said Mohammed Meshal, Amir’s father, speaking from their home in Tinton Falls on the New Jersey shore. “We started cooking and marinating the meat for his homecoming, and the next minute, everything collapses.”
Amir Meshal was in Somalia at a time when much of the country was controlled by Islamic militants. In December and January, hundreds of people, including Islamic militants, fled Somalia for Kenya after Ethiopian troops invaded the country in support of a weak but internationally backed government.
Meshal was arrested in Kenya, where U.S. authorities interviewed him and, according to officials in Washington, determined that he was not a threat and had not violated U.S. law. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi asked Kenya to deport him to the United States, then filed a formal protest when it learned Meshal had been returned to Somalia and then sent to Ethiopia.
At an April 13 hearing in Addis Ababa, a military tribunal declined to charge Meshal with a crime, U.S. officials said. The State Department made arrangements to fly him home, then discovered that the FBI had placed Meshal’s name on a no-fly list of suspected security threats maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. officials agreed last week that Meshal should be removed from the list and brought back to the United States, but now the Ethiopian government is standing in his way.
“I’m worried about his welfare, his safety, his security,” Mohammed Meshal said. “Why doesn’t the U.S. government demand his immediate release and bring him home?”
Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who sits on the House intelligence committee, said he has been frustrated by the often-contradictory information he has received about Meshal from U.S. government agencies. Holt has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene.
“We certainly had hoped that this case would be resolved earlier,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. “We continue to discuss this issue with the Ethiopian government.”
The Meshals vehemently deny that their son was a fighter, saying he had been a tour guide in Dubai. They did not know he was in Somalia until U.S. officials showed up at their door in early February.
Relatives have not been able to talk with Meshal, although they have received written messages from him through U.S. Embassy officials in Ethiopia who visited him. He told them that he was being treated well. Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Anne Gearan and McClatchy Newspapers writer Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.