Last update: 02 May 2023, 09:59 HST
Washington, United States
The US Secret Service said on Monday it blocked a Muslim mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, from attending a White House celebration with President Joe Biden to mark the belated end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Shortly before arriving at the White House for the Eid-al-Fitr celebration, Mayor Mohamed Khairullah said he received a call from the White House saying he had not been allowed to enter through the secret service and that he could not attend the celebration where Biden gave a speech in front of hundreds of guests. He said the White House official did not explain why the Secret Service blocked his entrance.
Khairullah, 47, informed the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations after learning he would not be allowed to attend the event.
The group called on the Biden administration to stop the FBI’s release of information from what’s called a terrorism screening dataset that includes hundreds of thousands of individuals. The group informed Khairullah that a person with his name and date of birth appeared in a dataset CAIR lawyers obtained in 2019.
Khairullah was a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s travel ban that limited entry into the United States for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries. He has also traveled to Bangladesh and Syria to do humanitarian work with the Syrian American Medical Society and the Watan Foundation.
“It left me puzzled, shocked and disappointed,” Khairullah said in a phone interview as he returned home to New Jersey on Monday night. “It’s not a question of not having been able to go to a party. That’s why I didn’t go there. And this is a list that targeted me because of my identity. And I don’t think the highest office in the United States should be down with such profiling.
US Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Khairullah was not allowed to enter the White House compound, but declined to elaborate on why. Khairullah was elected to a fifth term as borough mayor in January.
“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not permitted to enter the White House complex this evening,” Guglielmi said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are unable to comment further on the specific means and methods of protection used to conduct our security operations at the White House.”
The White House declined to comment.
Selaedin Maksut, executive director of CAIR’s New Jersey chapter, called the move “totally unacceptable and insulting.”
“If such incidents happen to high-profile and highly respected Muslim-American figures like Mayor Khairullah, then that begs the question: what happens to Muslims who don’t have the access and visibility that disposes the mayor?” Maksut said.
Khairullah said he was arrested by authorities in 2019 and interrogated at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for three hours and questioned whether he knew of any terrorists. The incident happened as he returned to the United States from a family visit to Turkey where his wife has family.
On another occasion, he said he was briefly detained at the Canada-US border as he returned to the country with his family.
The group said Khairullah helped the New Jersey Democratic Party compile the names of local Muslim leaders to invite to the White House Eid celebration and that over the weekend he was invited to an event at the New Jersey Governor’s mansion.
Khairullah was born in Syria, but his family was displaced amid government repression by the government of Hafez al-Assad in the early 1980s. His family fled to Saudi Arabia before moving to Prospect Park in 1991. He has lived there ever since.
He became a US citizen in 2000 and was elected to his first term as mayor of the city in 2001. He also spent 14 years as a volunteer firefighter in his community.
Khairullah said he made seven trips to Syria with aid organizations between 2012 and 2015 as a civil war ravaged much of the country.
“I’m Syrian and you know it was very difficult to see what we saw on TV and social media, and not respond to help people,” he said. “I mean we felt very helpless.”
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)