Yahya Wehelie said Saturday he can't wait to eat his mom's lasagna now that he's back on U.S. soil after FBI scrutiny stranded him in the Middle East for nearly two months on a no-fly list.
The 26-year-old Virginia man landed in New York on Saturday afternoon after the ordeal that began when his studies in Yemen aroused the suspicion of U.S. authorities. His family met him in New York and planned to drive him back to the Washington area.
"I can't ask for anything else in the world right now," said Wehelie, who had been living in a ramshackle Cairo hotel and surviving on fast food coupons provided by the U.S. embassy. "I want to eat some of my mom's cooking, lasagna I hope. I've been waiting for that."
Wehelie, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen of Somali descent, went to Yemen nearly two years ago at his parents' urging to learn Arabic. When he tried to return, FBI agents questioned him for days. He was placed on a no-fly list, leaving him stuck in Cairo until recently, when his no-fly status was removed.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the government's no-fly list, saying that citizens are routinely placed on the list without reason and without a way to remedy the situation.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, said he was glad Wehelie was reunited with his family but he worries for others in similar positions.
"There are still people overseas in his situation," Hooper said, vowing to press the issue with President Barack Obama's administration. "This is a policy that needs to be re-examined. They're barring citizens from returning to their own country."