By MALIN RISING and NIGEL DUARA | Associated Press – April 19, 2012
They beat the soles of his feet with hoses and sticks, asking him about his Portland, Ore., mosque and its imam. Each day, the men questioning him in a United Arab Emirates prison told the 33-year-old Fikre he would be released "tomorrow," according to an account he gave on Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden, where he has been since September.
"It was very hard, because you don't know why you are in there and the only person you speak to is either yourself, or the wall, or when you go to the restroom or when you go to the torture place," said Fikre, who was held for 106 days. "I have never been that isolated from human beings in my entire life."
An advocacy group alleges that over the past two years the FBI has been using aggressive tactics against Muslim-Americans travelling abroad to try to pressure them to become informants when they got home. Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says there have been several instances of FBI agents calling travelers into embassies or consulates for questioning.
The FBI is not commenting other than to say its agents follow the law.
Fikre, who converted to Islam in 2003, is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland's Masjid as-Sabr mosque.
The mosque, the largest in Oregon, has been in the news on several occasions. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American charged with plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.
Fikre says he met Mohamud a handful of times, but wouldn't call him a friend or even an acquaintance.
He said he tried to wink and signal to her that he was under duress, but she didn't notice.
"She was the only person that I felt could get me out of that position at the moment because she is my representative to the outside world, she's my representative to my embassy and she just left me there and she walked away," Fikre said.
Toner confirmed State Department officials were granted access to meet with him on July 28.
"According to our records, during the July 28 visit, Mr. Fikre showed no signs of mistreatment and was in good spirits," Toner said. "He reported that he had been treated professionally and was being well-fed, and did not have any medical conditions or concerns."
Fikre says the beatings and interrogations continued, and that during the last days of his confinement an interrogator acknowledged the FBI had requested that he be detained.
State Department officials requested to visit Fikre again in September, but learned days later that he had been deported to Sweden, Toner said.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not discuss specifics of the case.