Sabri Samirah, the head of the Illinois headquarters of the United Muslim American Association (UMAA), was returning from a family visit to Jordan when he was prevented from flying on to the US, where he has lived for the past 15 years.
Mr Samirah was held overnight and said he was told to buy a return ticket to Jordan or remain in jail for days or weeks “until an Irish judge decides what to do with you”.
Garda sources said it was normal practice that those stopped at Shannon by US immigration were handed over to the Irish authorities. But the spokesman dismissed claims that Mr Samirah was threatened with jail.
“In those cases, they are automatically sent back on the next available flight, and it is up to the airline that brought them in to bring them back, whether they have a ticket or not.”
Mr Samirah’s situation has caused controversy in the US. The UMAA has publicly campaigned against the war in Iraq. Speaking from Jordan, Mr Samirah said: “Political groups that do not agree with my opinions started spreading rumours that I had links to illegal groups.
“I am aware the INS and FBI investigated and they found nothing because I have the cleanest of records.” Colleagues claimed US authorities said he was a security risk, but did not reveal any further details. Samirah said his lawyers in Chicago were trying to persuade INS officials to let him return.