US jet sent 600 miles to keep Cat Stevens away

American officials diverted a transatlantic flight 600 miles in the belief that the presence of Yusuf Islam, the charity worker and pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens, posed an imminent threat to national security, it emerged yesterday.

The 56-year-old was escorted off the plane by FBI agents after customs officers realised that his name was on a “watchlist”. He was due to be deported to the UK last night after questioning. His daughter, 21, was allowed into the US.

Mr Islam, who is best known for hits such as Morning Has Broken, Wild World and Peace Train, last visited the United States in May. His name was added to the list subsequently and a US government source said he was refused entry because of fears that he had financially supported Hamas.

“He was placed on the list because of concerns about activities that could potentially be related to terrorism,” said a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

It is not clear why officials chose to divert the flight – at substantial cost and delaying other passengers for six hours – rather than detain Mr Islam on his arrival in Washington.

Muslim leaders on both sides of the Atlantic condemned the US decision, with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) describing it as “a slap in the face of sanity”.

Guardian, 23 September 2004