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'This Is Our Dress,' UAE Man Mistaken for Terrorist at Ohio Hotel Says

by Tim Stelloh and Steve Patterson /  / Updated 
Police bodycam footage shows the Emirati national Ahmed Al Menhali being pinned to the ground.Avon, Ohio, Police Department /

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To Ahmed al-Menhali, his white robe and headscarf symbolized a long, proud tradition that stretches back to the time of Jesus, Abraham and the Prophet Muhammad.

But after al-Menhali was handcuffed at gunpoint at an Ohio hotel last week and accused of belonging to ISIS, that traditional dress has fueled an international controversy: on Saturday, the United Arab Emirates, where al-Menhali is from, advised citizens traveling abroad to “preserve their safety” and avoid wearing the white robe, called a kandura, headscarf and black headband.

On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador Barbara Leaf said that what happened to al-Menhali was “deeply regrettable” and that she was “heartened” to see that the mayor and police chief in the city of Avon — less than 20 miles west of Cleveland — offered him their apologies.

On Monday, during an interview with NBC News, al-Menhali said that the meeting was a “good step to go forward.”

But he wanted to make clear that there was no “shame” in his clothing.

"What I want to show the American people, this society — this is our dress,” he told NBC News, adding that he felt "injured" deep in "my soul."

 Police bodycam footage shows the Emirati national Ahmed Al Menhali being pinned to the ground. Avon, Ohio, Police Department

Al-Menhali traveled to the U.S. for follow-up medical treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, Julia Shearson, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Ohio, told NBC News. As his appointments were wrapping up, she said, al-Menhali was becoming a typical tourist, visiting the Amish and a Jewish heritage museum in Cleveland.

“He was just trying to get to know more about the American people,” she said. “He really loves it here.”

Al-Menhali went to the hotel looking for a room that he could book for an extended stay, adding that he didn’t choose a five-star hotel with more security “because I believe America is safe.”

Noting the Republican National Convention, the hotel worker told al-Menhali that no such room was available, Shearson said, adding that a manager then gave him additional recommendations.

While al-Menhali was in the lobby calling Booking.com and searching for other options, relatives of a hotel worker dialed 911 and reported him as a possible terrorist, claiming that he was "using multiple disposable phones pledging his allegiance to ISIS."

It was, al-Menhali said, like a “terrible dream” that makes him “angry.”

Then, he added: “more than angry, I am sad, too sad.”

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