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'Amused' Cat Stevens back 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.
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Yusuf Islam
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British recording artist Yusuf Islam returned to London Thursday saying he was "shocked and slightly amused" after U.S. officials determined he was on a terrorist watch list and was not allowed to enter the United States.

Islam, the peace activist and singer once known as Cat Stevens, said he was traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, with his daughter for a recording session when he was approached aboard the flight into Washington, D.C.

"Suddenly we were forced to land and suddenly I was being interrogated by all these FBI officers," Islam said at an impromptu press conference at London's Heathrow Airport.

"The whole thing is totally ridiculous. Everybody knows who I am, you know, I'm no secret figure. Everybody knows my campaigning for charity, for peace. And there's got to be a whole lot of explanations. Hopefully there will be that."

When asked if he was being victimized, he said "absolutely," then added, "but you know people make mistakes."

"I just hope they've made a big mistake."

Islam was taken off a United Air Lines flight from London to Washington on Tuesday and officially denied entry to the United States when U.S. authorities ordered the aircraft to land in Bangor, Maine.

He was taken to Boston and Washington before being sent back to London on another United flight from Dulles International Airport.

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

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge accused Islam 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."

Other officials said he 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, and Homeland Security spokesman Garrison Courtney told CNN only that "the intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further heightens our concerns of Yusuf Islam."

The 56-year-old Islam changed his name after becoming a Muslim in the 1970s. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization wanted 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 'Okay, we don't need any more information.' We need more information," he said.

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, but 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.

Aviation security adviser Jalal Haidar, an Arab-American Muslim, said Islam's inclusion on the watch list may have been a mistake -- but he said the watch list system will improve.

"Mistakes happen. There are lots of redundant names, and identity can be mistaken," he said.

"The system is not perfect here." Ridge called the singer "one of my favorite artists," and said his agency would take "a very, very close look" at the information that resulted in Islam being placed on the list.

But another U.S. official said the Department of Homeland Security is "extremely confident in the information," and said it was credible "without a doubt."

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.

As Cat Stevens, Islam had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s such as "Moon Shadow," "Peace Train," "Wild World" and "Morning Has Broken" before converting to Islam in the 1970s and changing his name.

He dropped out of the music business for more than a decade after converting to Islam, but returned to the studio periodically since the late 1990s. He condemned the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, performing at a benefit concert to raise money for victims and donating a portion of the royalties from a career retrospective to a relief fund.

He also condemned the recent attack on a school in the southern Russian town of Beslan that killed more than 300 people, many of them children.

He was widely reported to have endorsed the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni's 1989 decree calling for the death of British novelist Salman Rushdie after Khomeni said Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses," was blasphemous.

But Islam has said his comments were taken out of context by a reporter, and that he opposed anyone "taking the law into their own hands."

CNN's Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

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