A German businessman of Syrian descent who wanted to surprise his daughter with a holiday visit was detained for four days in a Las Vegas holding cell before being sent back home without explanation.

A civil rights group called authorities’ treatment of Majed Shehadeh a case of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Shehadeh, 62, flew from Frankfurt to Las Vegas last Thursday, hoping to meet with his wife and drive to Bakersfield, Calif., where his American-born daughter had just gotten news she’d passed the California bar exam. Instead, he wound up shivering in a holding cell without ever being told why he couldn’t enter the country, he said.

Roxanne Hercules, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed Tuesday that Shehadeh was denied entry, but would not discuss specifics of his case. She said Shehadeh’s visa waiver could have been denied because “he could have a criminal record, or it could be a terrorism issue.”

The detention follows a series of similar incidents involving Muslim passengers, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In October, an Islamic scholar from South Africa was denied entry at San Francisco International Airport. A month later, six imams were taken off a US Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix after a passenger reported overhearing them criticize the U.S. war in Iraq.

“Overall these cases send a message that Muslims are second-class citizens who can be detained and kept from their families,” said Affad Shaikh, a civil rights coordinator for CAIR.

Shehadeh touched down Thursday afternoon on a direct Condor Airlines flight to McCarran International Airport, where his American wife was waiting to pick him up. The couple had planned to visit family in the Las Vegas area, before surprising their daughter for the New Year and celebrating her wedding anniversary in Central California.

“I gave them my German passport, and he looked to see which countries I visited. He found I had stamps that looked like Arabic and asked if they were fake,” Shehadeh said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in Alzenau, a small Bavarian village.

“Nobody ever informed me why I was being questioned,” he said. “All that was ever told to me was this had to do with Washington.”

After being interrogated by Border Protection and FBI agents for more than 12 hours at the airport, Shehadeh said he was handcuffed and transported in the back of police car to a North Las Vegas jail. Officials told family members they had denied Shehadeh’s visa waiver, which grants German citizens the right to enter the U.S. with no additional paperwork, said his wife Joanne Mulligan.


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