Toby Melville/Reuters/Landov
Stephen M. Silverman
September 23, 2004 08:30 AM

After being deported from the United States on Thursday, Muslim convert and former pop star Cat Stevens returned to Britain and said upon his arrival at London’s Heathrow airport: “The whole thing is totally ridiculous. Half of me wants to smile, half of me wants to growl.”

Stevens, 56, was traveling with his daughter on a United Airlines flight on Tuesday from London to Washington when American officials diverted it 600 miles to Bangor, Maine, because of what authorities terms his “potential” terrorism links.

The move has outraged Arab-American and British Muslims, and led Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to complain personally to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations, Reuters reports.

Straw “expressed concern that this action should not have been taken,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

Three decades ago, Stevens (born Stephen Demetre Georgiou, in London) withdrew from his music career to become a Muslim, changing his name to Yusuf Islam. Among his hits were “Peace Train,” “Moonshadow,” “Morning has Broken,” and “Wild World.”

Mobbed by reporters at Heathrow, he said: “It’s crazy. Everybody knows me from my charitable work and now there has to be explanations, but I’m glad to be home.”

Asked if he felt victimized, Islam/Stevens said: “Absolutely. But you know, for God’s sake, people make mistakes. I just hope they have made a big mistake.”

A leading Arab-American group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, citing Islam’s “long history of promoting peace and reconciliation and condemning terrorism,” sent letters to President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asking for explanations on Islam’s treatment.

Defending the decision, American Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle said on Wednesday that Islam was deported after his name surfaced on U.S. “no fly” lists.

“Why is he on the watch lists? Because of his activities that could be potentially linked to terrorism. The intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further raises our concern,” Doyle said.

Questions also have been raised about how Stevens could have been allowed on the United flight in the first place.

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