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A final year law student who was mistakenly identified as an al-Qaeda terrorist suspect and then detained by the FBI in New York is seeking damages for his ordeal.
Adeel Akhtar, 21, a student at Oxford Brookes University, was preparing to board an Air India flight from Heathrow to JFK airport at the end of February, when security staff confiscated his tickets and passport. On arrival in the US, he was handcuffed by FBI agents, escorted off the plane and interviewed for several hours in a detention centre before being released.
Security staff at Heathrow are thought to have alerted the authorities after they feared Heathrow security staff alerted the authorities that one of the FBI's most wanted was on board. Four US and Canadian fighter jets were quickly scrambled to intercept the plane, while worldwide news networks broadcast that a terrorist was about to land in New York. Akhtar, who had to sit his finals shortly after returning to the UK, has now prepared a brief with his father, Humayum, a legal executive. His father said they could sue on the grounds of negligence, personal injury, defamation and unlawful detention, and that he is now awaiting further instruction from counsel.
"My own personal view is that the initial action will be against Air India," he told Lawyer 2B. "Then we have to establish whether or not British intelligence was involved."
Taking on the FBI is a separate issue, which would require a lot of funding and would not be easy, he added.
"Given the political climate in the US, would an attorney be able to take on the FBI? They would have a very easy defence, as they would say 'What can we do? We received the information and had to act on it seriously'."
Akhtar, who has a place on the Legal Practice Course at Westminster University and also at a drama school in New York, has become withdrawn and moody since the incident, according to his father.
"Had this been a white boy with a Christian name would it have happened?" he asked.