Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Muslim who grew up in Syria. After a few years of apprenticeship in the Syrian port city of Jableh, Zeitoun spent twenty years working at sea as a muscleman, engineer and fisherman. During this time he traveled the world and eventually settled in the United States in 1988. There he met his wife Kathy, a native of Baton Rouge who had converted to Islam, with whom he founded their business, Zeitoun Painting Contractors LLC.
In late August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approached the city, Kathy and their four children left New Orleans for Baton Rouge. Zeitoun stayed behind to watch over their home, ongoing job sites and rental properties. Once the storm made landfall, their neighborhood (although miles from the nearest levees) was flooded up to the second floor of most houses. Zeitoun began to explore the city in a secondhand canoe, distributing what supplies he had, ferrying neighbors to higher ground and caring for abandoned dogs.
On September 6, Zeitoun and three companions were arrested at one of Zeitoun's rental houses by a mixed group of U.S. Army National Guardsmen, local police and police from out-of-state. They were detained in a makeshift jail in a Greyhound bus station for three days before being transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in nearby St. Gabriel, Louisiana. Zeitoun was held at Hunt for 20 more days without trial, but he was given a bond of 75 thousand dollars and read his charges. He was interviewed by officers and later by ICE officials and put in segregated cells. Like others in this predicament, he did not receive medical attention and could not contact his family.