Muslims taken off Minneapolis flight after ‘peculiar’ behavior
A half-dozen Muslims were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis on the evening of Nov. 20 after nervous passengers alerted the flight crew about suspicious behavior.
The men, who officials later learned were Islamic religious leaders, refused to leave the plane and were escorted by security off Flight 300 from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Phoenix at 6:30 p.m.
Conflicting reports say the men were praying in the concourse or on the plane, and a Minnesota television reported that the imams were chanting “Allah, Allah, Allah,” as they left the plane.
Douglas Hagmann, director of the Northeast Intelligence Network, a private organization that investigates terrorist threats, said his contacts are reporting the men did begin the prayers in the concourse, then continued prayers and discussions once on board.
“One of the passengers who understands Arabic passed a note to the crew that what she heard, she did not like,” Mr. Hagmann said.
Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the men reportedly made anti-American statements relating to the Iraq war, asked to change seats once inside the cabin, and that one requested an extender to make his seat belt larger even though he did not appear to need it.
“There was some peculiar behavior,” Mr. Hagmann said.
In a statement released by US Airways on Nov. 21, the airline said they “are diligently conducting our own investigation” and working with law-enforcement officials and government agencies.
“We are always concerned when passengers are inconvenienced and especially concerned when a situation occurs that causes customers to feel their dignity was compromised. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will continue to exhaust our internal investigation until we know the facts of this case and can provide answers for the em- ployees and customers involved in this incident,” the statement said.
The imams, along with Rep.elect Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress, had attended a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation.
A call and e-mail for comment to Mr. Ellison’s campaign office were not returned.
The imams and officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) say the men were victims of prejudice and ignorance.
“We are concerned that crew members, passengers and secu- rity personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR’s director. “CAIR is receiving more reports of ‘flying while Muslim’ and racial profiling incidents from members of the Islamic community nationwide.”
The group is calling for congressional hearings on racial, religious and ethnic profiling at airports, and investigations by the Justice and Homeland Security departments. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at DHS has already opened an investigation.
Mr. Hagmann called the incident “ideological jihad” and a “test run” to undermine airport security through litigation.
“This is a watershed event in this country — one week before Thanksgiving when tensions are high — and they are looking for this to be litigated ad nauseam,” Mr. Hagmann said.