As It Happens

Theatre historian, 90, can't get U.S. mail since ISIS fighter used his name as an alias

David Mayer has had trouble travelling and receiving mail after a Chechen ISIS militant known as “Akhmed the One-armed” adopted his name.

David Mayer has had trouble travelling and receiving packages since a Chechen ISIS militant adopted his name

David Mayer is a retired professor of theatre history from the University of Manchester. (Akash Khadka/Submitted by David Mayer)

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David Mayer has had trouble travelling and receiving U.S. mail after a Chechen ISIS militant known as "Akhmed the One-armed" adopted his name as an alias.

That Mayer is a U.S. military veteran who is well-known in academic circles doesn't seem to make any difference.

Nor does the fact that the person who adopted his name, Akhmed Chatayev, was killed during a counter-terrorism operation in Georgia a year ago.

"For three years, I've lived with this problem of having mail disrupted, my research interfered with, for no reason other than that my name corresponds to an alias that the man was using," Mayer told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Mayer said it all started when he tried to buy a vintage theatre poster on eBay, only to have it returned to the sender with a message from U.S. Customs stating that the "recipient name matches a denied party/entity that may not send or receive exports."

"I can only say I was baffled," he said. "I had no idea what was the cause of it, why I was unauthorized."

'That didn't solve anything'

Mayer's daughter's partner did some online sleuthing for him and discovered his name was among several aliases adopted by Chatayev, an ISIS militant believed to be responsible for the 2016 Istanbul airport attack, and whose name has been on a U.S. sanctions list since 2015.

"That didn't solve anything," he said. "It merely identified the problem."

In this frame grab taken from Rustavi2 footage dated 2012, Akhmed Chatayev speaks to the media in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Rustavi2/Associated Press)

Mayer said neither the U.S. Postal Service nor the U.S. embassy in London were able to help him. 

As It Happens has reached out to the U.S. Postal Service for comment. The U.S. embassy does not comment on individual cases due to privacy concerns, but told the Guardian that travellers who believe they've been unfairly profiled can apply to the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

'Being disallowed by your own country'

Mayer, meanwhile, continues to find himself up against red tape. 

Every piece of mail sent to him from the U.S. bounces back — except, he says, anything from the Internal Revenue Service.

During an recent trip to his home country, he says was initially barred from the flight until he produced his official U.S. military documents to prove his identify. 

"It's been this kind of continuous interference lending a strong element of unpredictability to my life," he said, noting he is a U.S. citizen who still votes in America. 

"It's the experience of being disallowed by your own country."

Losing hope

Mayer thought clearing his name would easy. After all, it's not hard to figure out who he is.

He has an established career as professor emeritus of drama at Manchester University. He's been married to the same British woman and living at the same address in England for four decades.

He says he's gone through several official channels to rectify the situation — including calling a lawyer, reaching out to his congressman and going through the U.S. embassy — all to no avail.

"I want to be optimistic about it," he said. "But I don't yet have the grounds to be."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Ashkey Mak. 

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