‘Beyond absurd’: FBI and NYPD ‘interrogated’ man after he read online article about ISIS
“On Thursday, December 10, 2015, two NYPD detectives interrogated me in the hallway of my apartment building under the suspicion that I supported the Islamic State. I let the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force into my living room five days later so they could do the same thing,” Aaron Saltzman wrote in an op-ed piece in the Observer on Tuesday.
Saltzman, 27, told RT the interrogation with the NYPD lasted over 35 minutes, with detectives asking about a Jet Blue flight he took from Florida three weeks prior, what he did for a living, and what he did on the flight.
Then he said they got to the meat of the interrogation: “Were you watching videos about the Islamic State?” the detectives asked.
“At that point my heart just kind of dropped because it feels just beyond absurd,” Saltzman told RT.
Guy reads article about ISIS, gets interrogated by the NYPD and FBI https://t.co/fDM6uogBRA— Joseph Miner (@JosephMiner) February 2, 2016
Saltzman asked if they were accusing him of being sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS/ISIL), and was told, “sir, we are just asking questions.”
Saltzman explained that he was a Jewish kid whose grandmother fought in Israel’s War of Independence, that he worked in music, and that he finally asked them if they were joking.
“Then it hit me…I was reading an article in The Atlantic [magazine] called ‘What ISIS Really Wants.’ A friend had sent it to me as one of the most important articles on the Islamic State…[describing] the rationale of what they believe…a very informative piece,” said Saltzman.
He had been reading the article on his computer, taking notes, while on the flight from Florida. The cover image for the story was a gunman pointing his gun to the sky, flushed in tones of orange, red and black. A passenger on the flight had seen it, got scared, and responded to law enforcement’s call of “If you see something, say something.”
Five days later, an agent from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force called Saltzman and asked to visit to him. They had similar questions to the NYPD but ended their interrogation by asking him, “Do you have any deep issues with the United States of America?”
Saltzman said he told them, “I am America’s biggest fan.”
Saltzman’s said his experience lead him to question whether he wanted law enforcement following up on tips, and whether he wanted his country to profile people, particularly Muslims, especially when most terrorism in the US is carried out by what he called “white fanatics.”
“But this wasn’t profiling by a government agency,” he added. “This was someone on an airplane so painfully scared, so unnerved, that they see someone …reading an article…and thought that warranted calling in the authorities.”
Saltzman’s experience is not the first instance of alarm over terrorism at airports or an airplanes.
In December, a Sikh attorney removing the tag on her hand luggage for easy access to her breast pump before she boarded a Delta flight caused an uproar with another passenger and a flight attendant.
In a related incident, a Spirit Airlines flight made news headlines on November 17 after a woman and three men were escorted off a plane for questioning. The flight’s departure was interrupted after a witness reported “suspicious activity” to the flight crew, according to Maryland Transportation Authority police.
Police said the “suspicious activity” was one of the passengers watching a news report on a smartphone. Other passengers told the Baltimore Sun the four passengers were of Middle Eastern descent, but police would not release any information about them.
Saltzman compared this fear to the kind that traumatized people during the time of Nazi Germany, or lead to the roundup of Japanese Americans in internment camps during the Second World War.
“We are so polarized as a country. I think what President Obama said is true when he said in his final State of the Union address the biggest regret of his presidency was how far apart we are politically,” Saltzman said. “I think that is how you get a candidate like Donald Trump to succeed as far as he did.