WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Secret Service said Monday it blocked a Muslim mayor from Prospect Park, New Jersey, from attending a White House celebration with President Joe Biden to belatedly mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Shortly before he was set to arrive at the White House for the Eid-al-Fitr celebration, Mayor Mohamed Khairullah said he received a call from the White House stating that he had not been cleared for entry by the Secret Service and could not attend the celebration where Biden delivered remarks to hundreds of guests. He said the White House official did not explain why the Secret Service had blocked his entry.
Khairullah, 47, informed the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations after he was told he would not be allowed to attend the event.
The group has called on the Biden administration to cease the FBI’s dissemination of information from what is known as a Terrorist Screening Data Set that includes hundreds of thousands of individuals. The group informed Khairullah that a person with his name and birthdate was in a dataset that CAIR attorneys obtained in 2019.
Khairullah was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s travel ban that limited entry to the U.S. of citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries. He also has travelled to Bangladesh and Syria to do humanitarian work with the Syrian American Medical Society and the Watan Foundation.
“It left me baffled, shocked and disappointed,” Khairullah said in a telephone interview as he made his way home to New Jersey on Monday evening. “It’s not a matter of I didn’t get to go to a party. It’s why I did not go. And it’s a list that has targeted me because of my identity. And I don’t think the highest office in the United States should be down with such profiling.”
U.S. Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Khairullah was not allowed into the White House complex, but declined to detail why. Khairullah was elected to a fifth term as the borough’s mayor in January.
“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not allowed to enter the White House complex this evening,” Guglielmi said in a statement. “Unfortunately we are not able to comment further on the specific protective means and methods used to conduct our security operations at the White House.”
The White House declined to comment.
Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of CAIR, called the move “wholly unacceptable and insulting.”
“If these such incidents are happening to high-profile and well-respected American-Muslim figures like Mayor Khairullah, this then begs the question: what is happening to Muslims who do not have the access and visibility that the mayor has?” Maksut said.
Khairullah said he was stopped by authorities in 2019 and interrogated at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for three hours and questioned about whether he knew any terrorists. The incident happened when he was returning to the United States after a family visit to Turkey where his wife has family.
On another occasion, he said he was briefly held at the U.S.-Canada border as he traveled back into the country with family.
The group said Khairullah helped the New Jersey Democratic Party compile names of local Muslim leadership to invite to the White House Eid celebration and over the weekend was a guest at an event at the New Jersey governor’s mansion.
Khairullah was born in Syria, but his family was displaced in the midst of the government crackdowns by Hafez al-Assad’s government in the early 1980s. His family fled to Saudi Arabia before moving to Prospect Park in 1991. He has lived there since.
He became a U.S. citizen in 2000 and was elected to his first term as the town’s mayor in 2001. He also spent 14 years as a volunteer firefighter in his community.
Khairullah said he made seven trips to Syria with humanitarian aid organizations between 2012 and 2015 as a civil war ravaged much of the country.
“I am Syrian and you know it was very difficult to see what we saw on TV and and social media, and not respond to help people,” he said. “I mean we felt very helpless.”