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Detained Cat Stevens heading home

Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, addresses 2003 annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America.
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Cat Stevens heads back to London after being taken off a plane due to terror concerns.
Should the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens be denied entry to the U.S. on national security grounds?
Cat Stevens
Yusuf Islam
Transportation Security Administration

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The singer formerly known as Cat Stevens was making his way back to London Wednesday after being taken off a diverted trans-Atlantic flight by U.S. officials.

But U.S. Muslim leaders say they want the government to explain why the singer was on a "watch list" meant to keep terrorists out of the country.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge accused Yusuf Islam, the singer's Muslim name, of having some unspecified relationship with terrorist activity.

"Celebrity or unknown, our job is to act on information that others have given us," Ridge said. "And in this instance, there was some relationship between the name and the terrorists' activity with this individual's name being on that no-fly list, and appropriate action was taken."

United Airlines Flight 919 from London to Washington was diverted to Maine after Islam's name turned up on a list designed to keep terrorists or their supporters from boarding flights, U.S. officials said.

Islam, 56, took that name when he became a Muslim in the 1970s.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization wants a better explanation for why the singer was denied entry into the country.

"We are getting a little tired of this kind of Kafkaesque treatment of people, where vague allegations are made and actions are taken against individuals and organizations," Hooper said.

He said American Muslim leaders "need to know where the allegations are coming from."

"I don't think we want to be in a situation where people are denounced by anonymous government officials and labeled as terrorists and that's it -- everybody says 'OK, we don't need any more information.' We need more information," he said.

Other officials said Islam was on the watch list because of reported associations and financial support for Muslim charities with terrorist connections.

But they would not disclose the names of those charities. Homeland Security spokesman Garrison Courtney would only say "the intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further heightens our concerns of Yusuf Islam."

According to Islam's Web site, he is associated with three charities: Small Kindness for humanitarian relief; Islamia Schools' Trust for education; and Waqf al Birr Educational Trust for educational research and development and scientific and medical research.

Ridge said the intelligence that put the singer's name on the list came from outside the United States, but he would not reveal the source.

He questioned why United allowed him onto the flight at all. Government sources said Islam's name was added to the watch list only recently and had been misspelled -- which could explain why airline employees overlooked it.

While the plane was in flight, the Advanced Passenger Information System flagged Islam's name, a Department of Homeland Security official said.

Customs agents alerted the Transportation Security Administration, which then ordered the plane diverted to Bangor, Maine, and away from the northeast corridor of New York and Washington.

Islam, a British citizen, was held in Bangor before being taken Wednesday morning to Boston, where the Massachusetts Port Authority said he would be put aboard an afternoon flight to Washington. From there he will be sent back to London.

On his official Web site, Islam has posted numerous statements in opposition to terrorist attacks, most recently the school seizure in Beslan, Russia that ended with more than 300 people dead -- about half of them children.

Islam also criticized the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States and donated a portion of the royalties from a four-disc set of his music to the families of the September 11th Fund.

Muslim groups in Britain also reacted with anger and surprise at Islam's detention. (Full story)

In Bangor, the rest of the passengers were screened and continued on to Washington's Dulles International Airport after Islam was taken off the flight.

The Boeing 747 had about 280 passengers and crew onboard when it took off from London's Heathrow Airport, United spokesman Jeff Green said.

As Cat Stevens, Islam had a string of folk-rock hits in the 1960s and early 1970s, including "Peace Train," "Morning Has Broken" and "Wild World."

He dropped out of the music business for more than a decade after converting to Islam but returned to the recording studio periodically during the 1990s.

Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

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