Imams drop suit against ‘Doe’ pas­sen­gers

Claim still tar­gets air­line for re­moval from flight

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

A fed­eral court on Aug. 22 ac­cepted a re­quest by a group of Mus­lim imams to drop all claims in a fed­eral law­suit against un­spec­i­fied “John Doe” pas­sen­gers for re­port­ing the men’s sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior, which led to their re­moval from a US Air­ways flight last year.

The law­suit filed in the U.S. Dis­trict Court of Min­nesota was amended to “hereby dis­miss pos­si­ble de­fen­dants ‘John Does’ as set forth in [. . . ] the first amended com­plaint as par­ties from this ac­tion,” said the no­tice of dis­missal. The law­suit still tar­gets US Air­ways and Min­neapo­lis air­port work­ers.

Gerry Nolt­ing, a lawyer who rep­re­sents one of the un­named “John Doe” pas­sen­gers, said the dis­missal demon­strates the imams’ case did not hold wa­ter and that the pas­sen­gers “were do­ing noth­ing but their im­por­tant duty as air­line trav­el­ers to re­port sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior to the ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor­i­ties.”

“Hope­fully, this will en­cour­age all air­line trav­el­ers to con­tinue to be the eyes and ears of the FAA and re­port sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior,” Mr. Nolt­ing said.

The law­suit had said that “plain­tiffs are un­aware of the true names and ca­pac­i­ties of de­fen­dants sued herein as John Does and there­fore sue said de­fen­dants by such fic­ti­tious names. Plain­tiffs will [. . . ] amend this com­plaint to al­lege true names, ca­pac­i­ties, and cir­cum­stances sup­port­ing the li­a­bil­ity of said de­fen­dants” af­ter find­ing out that in­for­ma­tion.

Pas­sen­gers and the flight crew said the men were dis­rup­tive and did not take their as­signed seats and formed a pat­tern sim­i­lar to the Septem­ber 11 hi­jack­ers. Some of the men asked for seat-belt ex­ten­sions they did not need, crit­i­cized the war in Iraq and Pres­i­dent Bush and talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The Becket Fund, a le­gal ad­vo­cacy group that pur­sues re­li­gious free­dom cases, de­manded that the pas­sen­gers be dropped from the suit and an­nounced it would rep­re­sent for free any pas­sen­gers who were iden­ti­fied and for­mally named.

“Bet­ter late than never,” said Kevin J. Has­son, the group’s pres­i­dent. “They should never have sued the John Does in the first place, and they should have dis­missed them long be­fore now, but at last they have fi­nally done the right thing.

“We can now get back to fight­ing for the real re­li­gious lib­erty of all with­out the dis­trac­tion of threat­ened law­suits against fright­ened and vig­i­lant air pas­sen­gers,” Mr. Has­son said.

Nei­ther the imams nor their lawyers is­sued any pub­lic word on Aug. 22 other than the mo­tion to dis­miss.

The law­suit sparked a po­lit­i­cal de­bate on Capi­tol Hill, which led to leg­is­la­tion called the “John Doe” pro­vi­sion to pro­tect air­line pas­sen­gers from be­ing sued if they re­port be­hav­ior that may fore­shadow ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“I am pleased that the leg­is­la­tion I signed to­day pro­tects Amer­i­cans from be­ing un­duly pros­e­cuted for re­port­ing ac­tiv­ity that could lead to acts of ter­ror­ism,” Pres­i­dent Bush said upon sign­ing the leg­is­la­tion Aug. 3.

The new law is retroac­tive and al­lows “John Doe” pas­sen­gers who are wrongly sued to re­cover le­gal fees.

The six imams were re­moved from the Nov. 20 flight “on the ba­sis of their per­ceived race, re­li­gion, color, eth­nic­ity [. . . ] an­ces­try and na­tional ori­gin,” said the law­suit.

The men were es­corted off Flight 300 to Phoenix on Nov. 20, hand­cuffed br iefly, then searched and ques­tioned for sev­eral hours by air­port po­lice and mem­bers of the Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force.

The imams who filed the law­suit are Omar Shahin, Ahmed Shqeirat, Did­mar Faja, Mah­moud Su­laiman and Mar­wan Saded­din, all of Ari­zona, and Mohamed Ibrahim of Cal­i­for­nia.

The imams say the air­line and board had, with “the in­tent to cause harm to [the imams’] rep­u­ta­tion, ma­li­ciously, reck­lessly, and, with­out re­gard to their pri­vacy and in­tegrity, de­famed and made false re­ports against [the imams] to jus­tify le­gal ac­tion.”

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