Imams seek set­tle­ment with air­line over re­moval from flight

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

A group of Mus­lim imams is seek­ing an out-of-court set­tle­ment with US Air­ways, say­ing they should not have been re­moved from a Min­nesota-to-Phoenix flight last month and were not be­hav­ing sus­pi­ciously.

Five of the six Is­lamic re­li­gious lead­ers have re­tained the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions for le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and are seek­ing a “mu­tu­ally agree­able” res­o­lu­tion, said Ni­had Awad, CAIR ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

US Air­ways sched­uled a meet­ing with the imams on Dec. 4 to dis­cuss the in­ci­dent, but the men can­celed it and hired the ac­tivist group to act as le­gal coun­sel.

“With the hopes of reach­ing an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion to this mat­ter, we would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to ask for a for­mal meet­ing with US Air­ways ex­ec­u­tives and le­gal coun­sel,” said Ar­salan Iftikhar, CAIR’s na­tional le­gal di­rec­tor, in a let­ter to the air­line.

The imams rep­re­sented by CAIR in­clude Omar Shahin, Did­mar Faja, Ah­mad Shqeirat, Mar­wan Saded­din and Mohamed Ibrahim.

Mah­moudSu­laimanofNewMex­ico is the only imam not in­cluded as a plain­tiff.

Mr. Su­laiman is the pas­sen­ger who asked an­other pas­sen­ger to switch seats with him to ac­com­mo­date a blind imam. Mr. Su­laiman and was one of three imams who asked for a seat-belt ex­ten­sion even though the po­lice re­port cites his weight at 170 pounds.

The Wash­ing­ton Times first re­ported on Nov. 28 that the imams were not in their as­signed seats, but seated in a for­ma­tion sim­i­lar to the Septem­ber 11 hi­jack­ers and con­trolled the ex­its to the plane. The men also re­quested seat-belt ex­ten­sions but did not ap­pear to need them, and en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tions crit­i­cal of the United States, ac­cord­ing to po­lice re­ports and eye­wit­ness state­ments.

The imams and CAIR of­fi­cials main­tain that press re­ports as well as In­ter­net sites and blogs have cir­cu­lated charges they say mis­rep­re­sent the facts of the Nov. 20 in­ci­dent.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the false claims and smears used against th­ese re­li­gious lead­ers only serve to cloud the real is­sue in­volved, that of how na­tional se­cu­rity can be main­tained while pre­serv­ing con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected free­doms and re­spect for re­li­gious di­ver­sity,” said Mr. Awad.

CAIR says the men were hand­cuffed for sev­eral hours and is also de­mand­ing hear­ings on re­li­gious and eth­nic pro­fil­ing at air­ports.

Mr. Shahin told The Wash­ing­ton Times he was only hand­cuffed for “10 or 15 min­utes” and that the imams were not led off the plane in hand­cuffs.

Fed­eral air mar­shals and pi­lots called the imams’ ac­tions a probe of air­port se­cu­rity as well as a probe of the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect men­tal­ity of air pas­sen­gers.

The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported in 2004 that flight crews and pas­sen­gers were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a num­ber of ter­ror­ist probes, most no­tably North­west Air­lines Flight 327 from Detroit to Los An­ge­les in June 2004, dur­ing which 14 Syr­ian men pos­ing as mu­si­cians may have prac­ticed a dry run.

Also in July 2004, a pas­sen­ger from Syria was taken into cus­tody at the Min­neapo­lis-St. Paul In­ter­na­tional Air­port while car­ry­ing anti-Amer­i­can ma­te­ri­als and a note sug­gest­ing he in­tended to com­mit sui­cide.

A pilot re­ported that he watched a man of Mid­dle East­ern de­scent at the Min­neapo­lis air­port us­ing binoc­u­lars to get air­plane tail num­bers and writ­ing the num­bers in a note­book to cor­re­spond with flight num­bers.

An air­line spokes­woman says they­havere­ceivedtherequest­from CAIR for a meet­ing, as well as a meet­ing re­quest from Rep.-elect Keith El­li­son, Min­nesota Demo­crat, the first Mus­lim elected to Congress, but no date has been set.

“As far as we are con­cerned, we are done, and we will con­tinue to back the crew, but we do want to reach out to the pas­sen­gers,” said spokes­woman An­drea Rader.

Mus­lims held a pray-in re­cently at the Min­neapo­lis air­port and called for a prayer room to ac­com­mo­date their rig­or­ous prayer sched­ule.

“Ac­tu­ally, the topic of a prayer room never came up in our meet­ing,” said air­port spokesman Pa­trick Ho­gan. “They men­tioned it to the press be­fore the meet­ing.”

The air­port al­ready has two ar­eas where any­one of any faith can pray — a pri­vately op­er­ated Com­mu­nity Coun­sel­ing Cen­ter op­er­ated by a min­is­ter who en­cour­ages peo­ple of all faiths to pray in his fa­cil­ity and an­other area on the mez­za­nine level.

“Our in­tent at present is sim­ply to in­crease pub­lic aware­ness of those fa­cil­i­ties through sig­nage and other out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties,” Mr. Ho­gan said.

“If over time we find we need more space to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple’s needs, we would con­sider look­ing at other al­ter­na­tives. In any case, the space would be for peo­ple of all faiths — or none, for that mat­ter — and not ded­i­cated to the prac­tice of a par­tic­u­lar be­lief sys­tem,” he said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Omar Shahin, one of the six imams in­volved in a suit against US Air­ways, said he was only hand­cuffed for “10 or 15 min­utes” when he was re­moved from a Min­neapo­lis-to-Phoenix flight on Nov. 20.

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