U.S. bars Cat Stevens from entry. A plane from London carrying the former folkie -- now a Muslim named Yusuf Islam -- is diverted when his name turns up on a watch list

By Gary Susman
Updated September 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Passengers on a London-to-Washington flight on Tuesday found themselves landing instead in Bangor, Maine. The reason? Aboard the flight was one Yusuf Islam, better known as ’70s folkie Cat Stevens. Apparently, his name had appeared on a federal watch list for terrorists, the Associated Press reports. Customs officials on the ground reportedly held him for questioning and deported him on Wednesday. ”He was interviewed and denied admission to the United States on national security grounds,” Homeland Security department spokesman Dennis Murphy told AP.

It’s not clear why Islam’s name appeared on the list. The former singer now styles himself a peace activist, having all but abandoned the music business and changed his name when he became a Muslim in 1977. In fact, he visited New York as recently as May to promote a DVD of a 1976 concert tour. Islam was quoted as having supported the Iranian fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, though he has since denied such support. He was also barred from entering Israel a few years ago after it was alleged that his charitable contributions to Palestinian organizations had gone to fund terrorist groups, though he denied knowingly contributing to such groups. In recent years, he has made statements condemning terrorist attacks such as the 9/11 hijackings and the recent schoolhouse massacre in Beslan, Russia as violating the teachings of the Koran.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw complained about Islam’s deportation to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations on Wednesday, Reuters reports. ”The whole thing is totally ridiculous,” Islam told reporters upon his return to London’s Heathrow airport on Wednesday. ”Half of me wants to smile, half of me wants to growl. Everybody knows me from my charitable work and now there has to be explanations, but I’m glad to be home.” Of his interrogators, he said, ”For God’s sake, people make mistakes. I just hope they have made a big mistake.” He added, ”I wasn’t handcuffed or anything like that. They treated me very well. The one positive thing I can say is that a lot of security officers are very pleased because they got my autograph.”