After he was treated like a terrorist threat on a recent trip to Phoenix, Waqar Ahmad wondered if he'd get similar treatment on his next trip to the airport. He didn't have to wait long to find out.
The answer was yes.
When the Minneapolis resident recently flew to Seattle, he endured the same 45-minute security screening. TSA agents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport emptied his bag, item by item, making sure that he wasn't trying to sneak a bomb onto the plane.
Ahmad says one agent was uncommonly nice. Good luck getting off the list, the guy said. And he genuinely meant it: Apparently, he'd only known one person who ever got their name removed.
Maybe soon he'll know two.
Last Friday, Ahmad, 46, got a call from someone who identified himself as an FBI agent. (Minneapolis FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said he could not comment.) The agent told Ahmad he wanted to meet with him to discuss his "travel issue." Ahmad agreed to meet at the Dunn Brothers in downtown St. Paul.
He was a little surprised when another agent came along. Ahmad didn't catch that man's name, but he was identified as the lead FBI agent in charge of the Twin Cities airport.
They'd read the City Pages column about Ahmad's experience — meaning they also knew he was a former volunteer cop with the New York Police Department, and has been living in the United States for about 30 years.
Ahmad says their meeting was "cordial," and thinks the FBI's interests were split between trying to figure out if he deserved to be taken off the list... while getting some face time with someone who might be a threat.
He gave his best guess as to why he'd been flagged in the first place. In December, Ahmad bought a one-way ticket to Pakistan to visit his ailing father. Sadly, his father died before Ahmad made it back to the country of his birth.
Ahmad stayed in Pakistan for the funeral, then booked a one-way ticket back to Minneapolis, stopping to visit Saudi Arabia on his way back.
Ahmad guesses these one-way tickets are what triggered suspicion. Or, as he put it in language he probably didn't use with the FBI agents: "I figure some border patrol agent got a hard-on because traveling to these countries is a red flag. That guy is probably just trying to get his next promotion."
After about an hour, the FBI guys announced they were "more than satisfied" with his responses to their questions. One agent gave Ahmad his card, and told him to hold on to it in case he ever gets held up at the airport again.
Ahmad wants to believe their pledge to see what they could do about getting him off the flight risk list. But he's holding on to that business card just in case.