A Tempe doctor has been barred from the United States on accusations he’s linked to terrorists, his attorney said Thursday.
Dr. Nadeem Hassan, a gastroenterologist trying for two years to get a green card, went to Saudi Arabia for hajj — a religious pilgrimage — last month.
But when the Pakistani returned Wednesday, officials in New York City detained him and put him on a plane back to the Middle East, said his attorney Eric Bjotvedt.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied his application for a green card about a week after he left, citing his links to Jamaat al Tablighi, an Islamic missionary group. The government alleges the group has a hand in sending people to terrorist training camps, including American Taliban member John Walker Lindh, Bjotvedt said.
Hassan also is accused of inviting a suspected terrorist to visit the Masjid Al-Noor mosque near downtown Mesa.
Since Hassan, who worked at Maricopa Medical Center, was out of the country when his denial came through, he loses his chance to fight it in immigration court and will probably never be allowed into the country, his attorney said.
“It’s a bunch of BS, and they know that, and they know that if he went to an immigration judge to have his case heard, they would probably be laughed out of court,” Bjotvedt said.
Family and colleagues said Hassan was no terrorist.
“No, no, no. It’s not true. He’s not involved at all,” his father Zaheer Hasnain said from his Tempe home.
“If he were (a terrorist), why would they send him back? They would jail him,” said Naif Patel, imam of Masjid Al-Noor mosque.
“I think the poor guy was set up, and I think we’re losing an excellent doctor,” said Dr. Shahab Aftahi, a colleague of Hassan’s who also worked with him in Albany, N.Y.
Hassan wore traditional Muslim clothing, which brought derision from some co-workers at the county hospital after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Aftahi said.
In 2004, Hassan unsuccessfully sued Maricopa County, alleging a suspension of his privileges was motivated by discrimination.
The county contended that he abandoned a sedated patient while he went to a mosque to pray in June 2003.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, stated that a subsequent investigation found “insufficient evidence to support a suspension,” and his privileges were reinstated.
Amy Halm, Maricopa Medical Center spokeswoman, said he has a clinically solid record.
“A surgeon indicated in working with him in the past that he really knew what he was doing,” Halm said.
She said the hospital now must make sure all his patients are covered by other physicians.
The imam said Jamaat al Tablighi, based in Pakistan, is more an ideology than an organization.
Members travel as missionaries to mosques and Muslim communities, preaching a return to purist Islamic beliefs.
As for Hassan bringing a suspected terrorist to the Mesa mosque, his attorney said the government has never alleged that Hassan
knew the person he invited was a suspected terrorist. Hassan coordinated guest speakers for the mosque.
“They’re not giving him an opportunity to explain his side of the story,” Bjotvedt said.
“He could have said this is not true, or even if it is true, I didn’t know this about this person. And now that I know, I would never have anything to do with him because I don’t believe in that.”
Had Hassan’s case gone to court in the U.S., the government would have to show that he at least “should have known” the person was a terrorist in order to deny his green card, Bjotvedt said.
Instead, Hassan was flown back to Pakistan, his father said.
A spokesman for the Phoenix office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was unable to comment on Hassan’s status Thursday.