When Ahmed al-Menhali entered a hotel in one of Ohio’s Cleveland suburbs, he simply wanted to find an available room.
He did not imagine it would end with him having what was possibly a stroke while being accosted by gun-toting police following false accusations that he was a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
“It’s still not clear whether it was a stroke or not,” Julia Shearson, director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) rights group, told Al Jazeera.
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Menhali, a 41-year-old businessman and father of three from the United Arab Emirates, was in Cleveland for medical check-ups following health complications, including a previous stroke.
With most of the city’s hotels fully booked due to the Republican National Convention, he decided to try his luck at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Avon, lying just outside Cleveland.
When the front desk clerk said the hotel was also booked, Menhali, who was wearing a traditional white robe, requested some assistance finding a nearby extended-stay hotel where he could book a room for the duration of his medical procedures.
‘Police responded as if there were weapons’
“She went off and texted her sister and said I pledged my allegiance to ISIS,” Menhali told Al Jazeera, speaking through a friend due to his inability to speak properly following a previous stroke.
Her sister and father then called the 911 emergency service, and officers from the Avon Police Department arrived at the hotel quickly. Menhali was standing outside the hotel and speaking on the phone in Arabic when at least five police officers approached him.
The incident was caught on tape by one of an officer’s body camera. It shows an officer hop out of his vehicle and load his rifle before running towards Menhali. The officers proceed to yell at him and put him on the ground.
He was handcuffed at first, but officers eventually removed them.
In the video, the officers ask Menhali about his mobile phones and identification cards several times. He eventually collapses to the ground. Emergency responders then load him on a gurney and take him to hospital.
“There was nothing to give you cause to think [I’m] a ‘terrorist’,” he said. “They told the police that I was pledging allegiance to ISIS, but [said] nothing about weapons. The police responded as if there were weapons.”
Menhali added: “We are consulting with lawyers and will decide where to go from there.”
Speaking to the Dubai-based Gulf News news site, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the Emirati government had contacted Menhali.
The minister also advised Emiratis “to refrain from wearing the national dress when travelling abroad and specifically in public spaces to ensure their safety”.
The UAE’s embassy in Washington DC did not reply to Al Jazeera’s emails or phone calls.
The Avon Police Department provided Al Jazeera with a press release. Noting that the incident was still under investigation, the press release mentions Menhali’s attire several times and describes him as “an Arabic-speaking male” at one point.
After officers handcuffed Menhali and held him on the ground, the statement says, “contact was then made with the front desk clerk and it was learned that the male did not in fact make any statements related to ISIS”.
CAIR’s Shearson said the police statement appeared to demonstrate “bigotry and cultural unawareness”.
“It’s very concerning when they repeat the issue about his head dress … they repeat it as if they are justifying they’re response because of the full head dress.”
Describing the incident as just the latest in a pattern of soaring Islamophobia across the country, Shearson said: “This near hysteria [against Muslims] has been created by political candidates. It’s irresponsible and dangerous.”
In a statement to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Shearson said Avon City officials, including the mayor and the police chief met with Menhali “in order to apologise to him”.
“They told him that he was 100% blameless in this matter, and that the incident absolutely should never have happened.”
On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made his latest comment targeting Muslims when he said he will consider replacing hijab-wearing women who work in airport security with US military veterans.
A joint study between the University of California – Berkeley and CAIR found that more than $200m was spent by dozens of organisations on promoting “fear and hatred” of Muslims between 2008 and 2013.
Of the 74 groups identified in the report, 33 are groups “whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims”.
Between 2013 and 2015, 10 states passed anti-Islam legislation and a total of 81 similar bills – almost exclusively by the right-wing Republican party – were proposed in the US.
A group of American Muslims and interfaith leaders plan to push back against the rising tide of discrimination by encouraging thousands to march against bigotry, “extremism” and gun violence in Washington DC on July 23.
Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for the growing anti-Muslim sentiment, Shearson said. “The American people need to be reassured that we aren’t going to turn against strangers or the ordinary tourist and that we’ll treat our guests with dignity and respect.”