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Ohio town officials apologize to man from United Arab Emirates after Islamic State 911 call

The incident prompted the UAE's foreign ministry to urge its citizens to avoid wearing the white robes, headscarf, and headband of the national dress when traveling abroad.

by VICE News
Jul 3 2016, 6:10pm

Screenshot via Youtube

Officials in a Cleveland suburb apologized to a businessman from the United Arab Emirates after police detained the Emirati businessman on suspicion he was an Islamic State militant.

The detention also prompted the United Arab Emirates to urge its male citizens to avoid wearing the white robes, headscarves, and headbands of the national dress when traveling abroad.

The incident began when a receptionist at the Fairfield Inn in Avon, Ohio told her sister to call 911 to report what she had described as a man affiliated to Islamic State in the lobby.

"There is a man in full head dress with multiple disposable phones pledging his allegiance... or something... to ISIS," the receptionist's sister told police on the 911 call.

The man was actually 41-year-old Emirati businessman Ahmed al-Menhali, a husband and father of three children who has been in Cleveland receiving medical treatment since April. He was trying to book a room at the Avon hotel after having been forced to give up the Cleveland apartment he'd been staying in, due to reservations for the upcoming Republican National Convention.

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Police body camera footage shows officers arrive at the suburban chain hotel, draw their assault rifles, and take cover behind their vehicles. As Menhali walks out of the hotel entrance, one of the officers yells "there he is!" The police order him to get on the ground, and then run over and stick their knees into his back as they search and handcuff him.

"Why this? This very bad," says Menhali in broken English.

They stand him up and search him next to a police car, finding nothing suspicious. They then remove the handcuffs, and a few minutes later Menhali collapses to the ground, suffering from what he later described as a panic attack. EMTs transported him to a local hospital in an ambulance.

In an interview with The National, a UAE newspaper, Menhali said the police were "brutal" with him.

"They pressed forcefully on my back," Menhali told the paper. "I had several injuries and bled from the forceful nature of their arrest."

"I didn't think that they were there for me. I assumed that there was some sort of training exercise or event at the hotel but I was shocked to see them barge at me."

"I always wear my traditional clothes during all my travels and never encountered such a thing," Menhali said.

The Emirati newspaper reported that Menhali has been in Cleveland for follow-up treatment for heart surgery he had after suffering a stroke.

The incident comes as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to stop Muslims from coming to the United States, and in the wake of attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino in which the suspects claimed to be affiliated with Islamic State. A series of attacks over the past three days claimed by IS have also killed hundreds of people in Baghdad, Bangladesh, and Istanbul.

The heightened tensions almost certainly played a part in the 911 call from the hotel in the town of Avon, which, despite its proximity to Cleveland and its world-famous hospitals that have long treated Arab royalty, including Saudi and Jordanian kings, is a small town of about 22,000 people.

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"The hotel staff were nice to me and told me that they didn't have any availabilities, but I was surprised that the receptionist disappeared with my papers for a prolonged period of time with no apparent reason," Menhali said.

On Saturday, Avon Mayor Brian Jensen and the town's police chief, Richard Bosley, met with Menhali and members of Cleveland's Muslim community. They apologized for what they said was a miscommunication.

"No one from the police department (wanted) to disrespect you," Police Chief Bosley said. "That was not the intent of any of our officers. It is a very regrettable circumstance that occurred for you. You should not have been put in that situation like you were."

"There were some false accusations made against you," Mayor Jensen said. "And those are regrettable. I hope...the person that made those can maybe learn from those."

Related: Hundreds of US cops gather to hear accused Islamophobe lecture on Islam and terrorism

Jensen said he understood how Menhali felt because "his father had come to the US from Denmark and did not speak English fluently and he knew what it was like to be viewed as different," the National reported.

Avon's police chief also said he and his officers would be looking for ways to improve how they deal with people with limited English, and that he would welcome training that sensitized his officers to Islam and Muslims in order to avoid stereotyping.

The Muslim community leaders later invited the officials to join them in a traditional Ramadan sunset meal to break the day's fast.

Menhali said the apology was "a very positive first step."

On the same day, the UAE's foreign ministry issued the warning about wearing the the white robes and head covering to its citizens.

"For citizens traveling outside the country, and in order to ensure their safety, we point out not to wear formal dress while traveling, especially in public places," the message dated July 2 stated, without referring to the Avon incident.

The Foreign Ministry, in a message posted on its website in Arabic and English, urged citizens to abide by the laws of countries they are visiting. It alerted women to countries in Europe whose laws prohibit wearing of face covers, without referring to the incident in Avon.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Reuters contributed to this report.