A Tigard businessman helping distribute medicine and supplies in his native country of Libya has been blocked from flying back to the United States, his family and attorney said Friday.
Jamal Tarhuni, a 55-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, was denied boarding a U.S.-bound flight at a Tunisia airport last month, his daughter said. After consulting with the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, Tarhuni met withFBI agents who interrogated him about his religion and intimated that he had information about terrorist plans, his daughter said. Tarhuni, who has lived in the Portland area for more than 35 years and ran a furniture store and import business, is Muslim.
The refusal to allow Tarhuni to fly home has stunned his family and Portland-based humanitarian organization Medical Teams International. Tarhuni is a committed and trustworthy volunteer who has helped the Christian nonprofit take supplies to hospitals in war-torn Libya on three trips over the past year, said Bill Essig, vice president of international programs.
Tarhuni also has coordinated with groups such as the Tunisian Red Crescent and met with Libyan health officials to identify other needs for Medical Teams International, Essig said.
“Based on our experience, we believe there must be some misunderstanding,” Essig said. “He’s always demonstrated integrity and concern” about those the agency is helping.
The FBI has no comment, said Portland spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office has asked the FBI for information on Tarhuni’s situation, said Tom Towslee, Wyden’s state communications director.
Tarhuni, who was born in Libya, came to Portland more than 35 years ago to study engineering at Portland State University and escape the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, said his daughter, Lina Tarhuni of Tigard. Last year, he helped organize a rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square to protest Gadhafi’s crackdown on Libyans who sought to overthrow the dictator. Gadhafi was killed last October in the uprising.
Tarhuni, an importer, was moved to do something and approached Medical Teams International to offer his assistance, his daughter said.
He left last October on his current trip. But when he arrived at the airport in Tunisia on Jan. 17 to leave, the airport workers told him he could not board, his daughter said.
He thought it was a joke because they all knew him from the several times he had cleared medical shipments through customs before transporting them to Libya, she said.