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Turkish Pilot Raises No-Fly List Challenge

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - An Emirates Airline pilot wants a federal judge to intervene after he has waited nearly a decade for confirmation about whether he is on the U.S. government's no-fly list.

A dual citizen of Canada and Turkey, Mehmet Ege has been having trouble flying over U.S. airspace since 2006.

His attorney, Charles Zdebski, said in an interview that Ege's employer, Emirates Airline, determined that the U.S. government had Ege on the no-fly list after submitting a crew list for a flight that would enter U.S. airspace.

Ege was unable to take his seat in the cockpit that day.

The pilot filed a federal complaint last week against the FBI and various other federal agencies and officials, claiming that he deserves a chance to be heard.

"The placement of the plaintiff on the No-Fly List by the Defendants is arbitrary, capricious, not based on substantial evidence, and an abuse of discretion," the Oct. 14 complaint says.

Because he cannot fly over U.S. airspace, Ege says he cannot live and work in Canada, nor can he travel to and from the country.

The complaint notes that Calgary is the only exception but does not elaborate why.

Zdebski, Ege's attorney with the Washington firm Eckert Seamans, said the restrictions have also prevented his client's professional development, leaving him stuck as a co-pilot.

"We're dealing with a sophisticated, successful professional who flies planes internationally for a living," Zdebski said. "But he can't really get past go with the U.S. legal system."

None of the agencies that Ege is suing - the FBI, its Terrorist Screening Center, Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration - have disclosed the criteria used to place someone on the list.

"The secretive nature is vexing," Zdebski said in an interview. "The entire approach here is so contrary to our fundamental notions of fairness and justice."

Having been denied an opportunity to challenge his placement on the no-fly list, Ege submitted a second inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program in 2009, according to the complaint.

Though the agency told Ege in a 2011 letter that it reviewed applicable records and made the appropriate changes and corrections, Homeland Security has still not confirmed whether Ege's name appeared on the list, and his troubles continued, according to the complaint.

The Transportation Security Administration purportedly told Ege in a 2012 letter that no changes or corrections were warranted, but that he could appeal.

After Ege appealed, the agency issued a final order in 2013 upholding the 2012 determination. The D.C. Circuit dismissed Ege's subsequent petition for lack of jurisdiction.

Zdebski's co-counsel Jeffrey Brundage noted that Ege received his flight training in Canada.

Canadian, United Kingdom and Australian security officials have all cleared Ege to fly after they checked his background, Brundage added.

Zdebski said Ege has no idea how his name turned up on the list. His best guess is that a family member might have said or done something that caught the attention of the federal government, Zdebski said.

Shortly before his name is thought to have appeared on the list, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited Ege at home on behalf of the U.S. government, Zdebski said.

"I'm not an expert on terrorists, but he doesn't really fit the description - he's a middle-aged professional whose been flying commercial jets for 20 years," Zdebski said.

Ege, his two children and his Welsh-descended wife currently split their time between Dubai and the United Kingdom, but would prefer to live in Canada, Brundage said.

The pilot's current case differs from his appeal to the D.C. Circuit in that the previous case did not name the FBI or its Terrorist Screening Center as defendants.

Brundage says he expects the agencies to move for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, but says that precedent gives the U.S. District Court jurisdiction.

"Hopeful we'll get into discovery and get a good resolution," Brundage said. "Appealing again won't be adequate recourse," he added.

It's been over a year since a federal judge in California sided with the American Civil Liberties Union regarding a woman whom the government placed on terrorist watch list illegally.

The Justice Department admitted that an FBI agent's goof led to blacklisting Rahinah Ibrahim, and U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered her removed from all databases and lists back in April 2014.

That month, the U.S. government announced that it would tell U.S. citizens and permanent residents if their names are on the list, and possibly offer limited reasons why.

The ACLU remained critical, noting in a statement that "the new redress process still falls far short of constitutional requirements," because it still denies "meaningful notice, evidence, and a hearing."

Zdebski said Ege has also been deprived of those legal elements, but that his rights are narrower because he's not a U.S. citizen.

The current complaint, which alleges violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, is "sort of his last legal avenue," Zdebski added.

If this attempt fails, Ege can go through the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program again, but that process is lengthy, Zdebski said.

Ege's predicament is "very Kafkaesque," Zdebski added. Though frustrated, Ege is "responsive and thoughtful and really wants to resolve this," the attorney said.

The FBI and the Terrorist Screening Center did not respond to a request for comment.

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