As Mohammed Tariq Mahmood sat in the departure lounge of London’s Gatwick Airport last week, he was surrounded by giddy children, ecstatic for the 11-hour flight that would ferry them to Disneyland.
“Mickey Mouse – I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow,” Mahmood’s 10-year-old niece scribbled in her diary, alongside a colorful illustration complete with oversized ears. “I’ve got to go now. We’re getting on the plane.”
But they never did. A border control officer, on orders from Washington, intervened, Mahmood said, telling him and his brother that their family of 11 had been barred from the flight.
What was supposed to be a dream vacation instead became on Wednesday just the latest flash-point in a debate over Islam and security that inflamed passions on both sides of the Atlantic.
U.S. officials strongly denied that the Mahmood family was targeted based on their religion. But the case prompted America’s largest Muslim advocacy organization to call for an investigation into whether Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States was being “implemented informally” by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
A prominent British parliamentarian, meanwhile, demanded that Prime Minister David Cameron press U.S. officials for an explanation – something that Mahmood said he had not been given more than a week after the aborted Dec. 15 flight.
“The only explanation I can think of is that my name is Mohammed,” said Mahmood, the 41-year-old owner of a northeast London gym, in an interview Wednesday evening.