WASHINGTON – A Northern Virginia teenager who had been barred from flying home from Kuwait landed in Washington on Friday morning, four weeks after being detained, allegedly beaten by Kuwait authorities and questioned by FBI agents about possible terrorist connections.

Gulet Mohamed, dressed in a worn hooded sweat shirt and sweat pants, was embraced by his family after he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, the end of an ordeal that he said had “made me stronger.”

The United States “is built upon fighting for your rights,” Mohamed, 19, said in an interview.

Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list.

There are about 10,000 people on the no-fly list, whose size fluctuates depending on the threat level, and up to 500 of those are U.S. citizens, according to a U.S. counter-terrorism official.

The FBI has declined to discuss Mohamed’s case. But U.S. officials insist that the process used to place individuals on the no-fly list is legal and well founded, and relies on credible intelligence.

Many individuals represented by the ACLU had been out of the country for an extended period and had traveled to Yemen, a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts after several plots targeting Americans originated there.

Mohamed said he left Northern Virginia in March 2009, traveling first to Yemen, where he stayed for three weeks before moving on, at his mother’s request, to stay with relatives in a relatively peaceful region of Somalia. He said he went abroad to study Islam, Arabic and to get in touch with his roots.

In August 2009, Mohamed said he went to Kuwait, where another relative lives, to continue his studies. Last month, while at the airport to renew his visa, he was detained by two men. “I felt like I was getting kidnapped,” he said.

Mohamed said he was taken to a jail and interrogators asked him whether he knew Anwar al-Aulaqi, the U.S.-born cleric involved with an al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, or Osama bin Laden.

He said the Kuwaitis insisted that he knew Aulaqi when the cleric preached at a Falls Church mosque in 2001.

“I told them he was the imam in 2001. I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was a little kid,” Mohamed said.