WASHINGTON, July 28 - The parents of an American citizen detained without charge for more than a year in Saudi Arabia sued the federal government here on Wednesday, contending that the Bush administration had unlawfully ordered him held for interrogation about suspected terrorist plots.
The 23-year-old detainee, Ahmed Abu Ali of Falls Church, Va., was arrested while attending the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia in June 2003. The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched his family's home in Virginia days after his arrest, saying he was linked to a group of Virginia men charged with plotting to assist Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group dedicated to pushing Indian forces out of the disputed Kashmir region.
Three other Americans, who were arrested in Saudi Arabia about the same time, were extradited to the United States and charged in the plot in July 2003. Relatives of Mr. Abu Ali said he was questioned by the F.B.I. in Saudi Arabia shortly after his arrest, but he has not been charged with a crime by either American or Saudi officials.
Mr. Abu Ali's parents asked the United States District Court here to order the American authorities to secure his release, describing his detention as a violation of his constitutional rights. They fear that their son, who was acquainted with some of the men accused in the Virginia plot, has been tortured during his imprisonment.
Officials from the F.B.I. and the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State, who were named as defendants in the case, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, declined to comment on what he described as "an ongoing" Saudi investigation.
Omar Abu Ali, the father of Mr. Abu Ali, said: "We have been living a nightmare for a whole year. My son is innocent. What we hope is to bring him back safe and clear."
Morton Sklar, the family's lawyer and the director of the World Organization for Human Rights, an advocacy group here, said there was no direct precedent for a federal court to order American authorities to release an American citizen held by a foreign government.
But legal scholars say the Supreme Court ruling in the case of hundreds of detainees confined at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, may open the door for such a case.
On June 28, the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges have jurisdiction to consider petitions from detainees in Guantánamo who argue that they are being unlawfully held. The majority's analysis suggested that federal courts might also have jurisdiction to hear claims of illegal detention from those held in other foreign locations.
"Prior to June 28, 2004, it would have been thought to be virtually absurd, a very long-shot kind of action," Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, said of Mr. Abu Ali's lawsuit.
But Mr. Greenberger said the majority's analysis, while ambiguous, suggested that such lawsuits might be properly heard by the federal courts.
"What the lawyers here are probably doing is trying to take advantage of this ambiguity," said Mr. Greenberger, who is also a law professor at the University of Maryland.
Mr. Sklar said he expected the United States to insist that Saudi officials, not American ones, are detaining Mr. Abu Ali. He dismissed that claim. The family says American officials told them that the Saudis would release Mr. Abu Ali at the request of the Bush administration.
Mr. Sklar said testimony in the case against the Virginia men charged with plotting to assist Lashkar-e-Taiba shows that American officials were investigating Mr. Abu Ali. In July 2003, an F.B.I. agent testified that Mr. Abu Ali had bought a gun from one of the men charged in the case and had participated in some of the training.
The F.B.I. said Saudi officials detained Mr. Abu Ali because they believed he was involved in a bombing plot in Saudi Arabia, a contention his family denies. "His detention is subject to U.S. control," Mr. Sklar said.
State Department officials confirmed that Mr. Abu Ali remained in detention in Saudi Arabia and said consular officials visited him regularly. They declined to discuss the specifics of his case, but suggested that they had doubts as to whether he had been tortured.
"The United States government does not tolerate the mistreatment or torture of its citizens and lodges a complaint with the host government whenever torture or mistreatment is alleged to occurred," said Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the State Department. "No complaint of torture has been lodged with the Saudi Arabian government."