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American detained by Ethiopia,

WASHINGTON – A 24-year-old American Muslim has been detained by Ethiopia and could be designated a prisoner of war for allegedly fighting for radical Islamists in neighboring Somalia.Amir Mohamed Meshal is in an Ethiopian jail pending a hearing to determine his status, the State Department said Thursday. The case echoes complaints that other countries have lodged with the U.S. for the many people it has detained at the naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere as part of the fight against on terrorism.The detention also has caused a diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Kenya.U.S. authorities have determined that Meshel, a resident of Tinton Falls, N.J., is not a threat, has violated no U.S. law and did not fight for the Somali Islamists, some of whom are accused of having links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.U.S. officials have objected to how Meshal has been treated by Ethiopia, a steadfast U.S. counterterrorism ally that nonetheless has a checkered human rights history and has been criticized for mistreating prisoners.The State Department says Meshal was held for nearly a month in an Addis Ababa jail before U.S. diplomats were able to see him on Wednesday. The department also has criticized Kenya for turning him over to the Ethiopians despite U.S. requests not to do so.Efforts to reach Meshal’s family in New Jersey were unsuccessful on Thursday.His odyssey appears to have began when he traveled to Somalia last year to help the shattered nation’s then-powerful Islamists build an Islamic state, although his exact role in that process is not clear, according to U.S. officials familiar with his case.When Ethiopia invaded Somalia in late December with tacit U.S. backing and toppled the Islamists, Meshal was among thousands who fled. Many illegally crossed the country’s southern border into Kenya and were picked up on immigration charges.At least one other U.S. citizen who fled Somalia around the same time, Daniel Joseph Maldonado, was accused of al-Qaida affiliation and deported from Kenya to Houston, where he faces terrorism charges.Investigators and diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi who interviewed Meshal in February found credible his claims of noninvolvement in extremism and determined he was not a wanted U.S. criminal, according to the State Department and the FBI.Meshal told U.S. officials that he wanted to go to Somalia to help build a model Islamic state, said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. The official said the U.S. has no evidence that Meshal was a fighter.The embassy sought assurances from the Kenyan government that he not be deported to any country other than United States, the State Department said. That is when the trouble began.”Mr. Meshal was subsequently deported from Kenya without prior notification to the embassy, despite requests that any Americans held be deported to the U.S.,” said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. “We have formally protested this deportation with the government of Kenya.”From Kenya, Meshal was sent with other alleged Islamist fighters to Somalia where they were turned over to Ethiopian forces and brought to Addis Ababa in late February.Despite extensive U.S.-Ethiopian counterterrorism cooperation and repeated U.S. requests, including a direct appeal to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, American diplomats were unable to visit Meshal in prison until Wednesday, officials said.Meshal told the consular officer who saw him that he was in good health and had not been mistreated, Casey said.Meshal’s detention was first reported by McClatchy Newspapers.


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