Mus­lim si­b­lings or­dered off Lon­don plane af­ter ISIL ac­cu­sa­tion

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

THREE Bri­tish Mus­lim si­b­lings were left trau­ma­tised af­ter be­ing es­corted off a plane in Lon­don and in­ter­ro­gated on the tar­mac as armed po­lice kept watch, af­ter fel­low pas­sen­gers ac­cused them of be­ing mem­bers of the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

Sak­ina Dha­ras (24) her sis­ter Maryam (19) and their brother Ali (21), were on board EasyJet flight EZY3249 from Lon­don’s Stansted Air­port to the Ital­ian city of Naples on Au­gust 17.

Sak­ina told Al Jazeera on Tues­day that as the plane was about to take off, a crew mem­ber or­dered the si­b­lings off the air­craft and es­corted them down the stair­case to the tar­mac, where they were met by armed po­lice and an MI5 agent who ques­tioned them for one hour.

Ear­lier, two pas­sen­gers — also trav­el­ling to Naples — had told au­thor­i­ties that the si­b­lings had been look­ing at a mo­bile phone screen that showed ei­ther Ara­bic text or the words “praise be to Al­lah”, Sak­ina said.

“A pas­sen­ger on your flight has claimed that you three are mem­bers of ISIS,” the MI5 agent said to the si­b­lings, ac­cord­ing to Sak­ina, a clin­i­cal phar­ma­cist.

“The minute that I saw po­lice stand­ing there, I was ex­tremely emo­tional,” she said.

“We had noth­ing at all [on our phones]. We don’t even speak Ara­bic, we’re [of] In­dian [ori­gin].”

Sak­ina added that her brother had not looked at his phone dur­ing their time at Stansted.

The only Ara­bic in her smartphone is within an app fea­tur­ing verses from the Qu­ran, she said, which “wasn’t open” through­out their time in the air­port.

Dur­ing their one-hour in­ter­ro­ga­tion on the tar­mac, Sak­ina said she was asked to ex­plain — page by page — the de­tails of var­i­ous en­try stamps on her pass­port. She also showed the MI5 agent re­cent What­sApp mes­sages. The si­b­lings pro­vided an­swers re­lat­ing to their per­sonal lives and were ques­tioned on their home ad­dresses, work­places, so­cial me­dia his­tory and par­ents’ pro­fes­sions.

Sak­ina said the agent told them that he had al­ready per­formed checks on the fam­ily and was sim­ply ver­i­fy­ing the in­for­ma­tion, be­fore warn­ing her that he would be “do­ing more re­search on you, and if any­thing comes back, I’ll be here wait­ing on your re­turn”.

The si­b­lings, who are from north­west Lon­don. were then al­lowed back on the plane, which had been de­layed. “I was ex­tremely ner­vous and em­bar­rassed,” said Sak­ina, who also wrote an ac­count of the event on her Face­book page.

“I thought, shouldn’t they [the agent and po­lice of­fi­cers] be com­ing up [on the plane] with us, to show the other pas­sen­gers that we hadn’t done any­thing wrong, to say, ‘Don’t worry, it was a mis­un­der­stand­ing?’

“Our hol­i­day in Italy was ru­ined. It played on our minds the whole time.”

“Fol­low­ing con­cerns raised by a pas­sen­ger dur­ing the board­ing of flight … a mem­ber of ground staff re­quested the as­sis­tance of the po­lice who took the de­ci­sion to talk to three pas­sen­gers at the bot­tom of the air­craft steps, be­fore de­par­ture,” the com­pany said.

“The safety and se­cu­rity of ... pas­sen­gers and crew is our high­est pri­or­ity which means that if a se­cu­rity con­cern is raised we will al­ways in­ves­ti­gate it as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure. We would like to apol­o­gise for any in­con­ve­nience caused to the pas­sen­gers.”

Sak­ina said she and her si­b­lings were vic­tims of “racial pro­fil­ing”.

“I’m still very an­noyed that some­one [the ac­cus­ing pas­sen­gers] can get away with a bla­tant lie,” she said, adding that she would take le­gal ac­tion “if I knew a way to do so”.

The in­ci­dent comes at a time of ris­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia in the UK.

Sak­ina said be­fore the plane ex­pe­ri­ence, that she had re­ceived “the odd racist re­mark about my head­scarf ”.

“With the way things are spun in the me­dia and the cli­mate we’re in, we’re grow­ing ac­cus­tomed to it, and de­sen­si­tised . . . More ed­u­ca­tion is the best way to bat­tle ig­no­rance,” she added.

Mus­lims around the world are in­creas­ingly sub­ject to dis­crim­i­na­tion as Is­lam is con­flated with “ter­ror­ism”.

Rights groups said that while se­cu­rity was im­por­tant, ef­forts should be made to pro­tect in­no­cent peo­ple.

“It’s ab­so­lutely right that se­cu­rity is a fore­most pri­or­ity for air­lines, and that gen­uine causes for con­cern are prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated to guar­an­tee the safety of pas­sen­gers,” Rosie Brig­house, a le­gal of­fi­cer at the UK-based rights group Lib­erty, told Al Jazeera.

“How­ever, it is also im­por­tant that in­no­cent peo­ple aren’t sub­jected to hu­mil­i­at­ing pub­lic in­ter­ro­ga­tions, and it is there­fore in­cum­bent on the au­thor­i­ties to use their com­mon sense, and sub­ject re­ported con­cerns to ba­sic cred­i­bil­ity checks, be­fore de­cid­ing how to re­spond.”

Yas­mine Ahmed, di­rec­tor of Rights Watch UK, said the Dha­ras’ case raised “se­ri­ous hu­man rights con­cerns”.

“It is com­pletely unacceptable that young, Bri­tish Mus­lims are sub­ject to this treat­ment,” she told Al Jazeera.

“The gov­ern­ment must im­me­di­ately ex­plain un­der what pow­ers they acted, and how it is nec­es­sary and pro­por­tion­ate, on the ba­sis of a spu­ri­ous claim by a fel­low pas­sen­ger, to de­mand that three young Bri­tish Mus­lims dis­em­bark an air­craft and be sub­ject to ques­tion­ing by an MI5 of­fi­cer and told that the of­fi­cer may be wait­ing for them on their re­turn.”

Such ac­tion car­ried a “risk [of] hav­ing a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive ef­fect by alien­at­ing and iso­lat­ing young, Bri­tish Mus­lims,” she said.

“In­ci­dents such as these, which un­for­tu­nately are all too fa­mil­iar, raise very se­ri­ous ques­tions about whether the gov­ern­ment is gen­uinely com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing the very Bri­tish val­ues that it es­pouses in its counter ter­ror­ism strat­egy and whether the gov­ern­ment’s counter ter­ror­ism strat­egy is driven by ef­fi­cacy or pop­u­lar­ism.” — Al Jazeera

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