A Nigerian-born man was escorted off Amsterdam bound plane by armed police at London Luton Airport after a passenger mistook him for a Muslim after reading a message on his mobile phone about “prayer”. After being cleared of any wrongdoing Laolu Opebiyi, who is actually a Christian, was not allowed back on to the flight after the easyJet pilot refused him re-entry.
He was forced to wait for over three hours for the next flight on February 25. The businessman believes the passenger next to him assumed he was a Muslim and jumped to the conclusion that he may be a terrorist.
Opebiyi said that as they waited the plane’s departure, a fellow passenger asked him: “What do you mean by ‘prayer’?” Taken aback that he had been reading over his shoulder, Opebiyi explained that he was arranging to pray with friends.
The man then spoke with a cabin crew member where he was taken to the door of the cockpit and returned to tell Opebiyi that he was disembarking because he felt unwell. A few minutes later, two armed officers entered the plane and asked Opebiyi for his phone and for him to accompany them off the plane.
Opebiyi showed officers a copy of his Bible to verify he is a Christian, but the 40 year-old says he was forced to prove his Christianity more when, “They asked me which church I attend and how long I have been going there.”
Bedfordshire police officers also asked him if he ever thought about changing his religion.
They also asked him about the name of the conference call prayer group, which was ‘ISI men’ – an acronym for ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’, from the Bible quote ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another’.
An officer eventually told Opebiyi that he was in the clear but that the pilot had said he should take another flight. He suffered further humiliation when an officer accompanied him to the easyJet desk to help him get on the next flight and seven other passengers from the 6.45am flight, who had left the plane because of security fears, also joined the queue.
Opebiyi said one of them spotted him and said: “If he is on the next flight, I am not getting on the flight.” He said the officer took the female passenger aside and explained the situation. Before Opebiyi boarded the 10.25am flight, the officer shook his hand and expressed sympathy for his ordeal, he said.
But he now fears he is on a watch list because when he returned the next day from his business trip, the electronic passport gate did not let him through and he had to speak to an immigration officer before proceeding.
“Someone felt I was a terrorist because they saw the word ‘prayer’ on my phone and now I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in and out of the United Kingdom,” he said.
“Even if I was a Muslim, it was pretty unfair the way I was treated. I don’t think anyone, irrespective of their religion, should be treated in such a way,” said Opebiyi.
A Bedfordshire police refused to answer The Muslim News queries on why they pressed the passenger on whether or not he is a Muslim convert and why he was forced to prove his Christianity. Bedfordshire police did not address whether Opebiyi would have been arrested under terrorism charges if he was a Muslim.
“Officers attended and a passenger was removed from the flight as part of the enquiries. Officers notified easyjet that they were satisfied that there was no concern around the passenger travelling,” said a Bedfordshire spokesman.
EasyJet would not clarify to The Muslim News why Opebiyi was not allowed back on the flight once he was cleared by security. In statement a spokesman confirmed that, “Following concerns raised by passengers, the Captain of flight EZY2151 from Luton to Amsterdam on 25 February 2015 requested the assistance of the authorities who took the decision to disembark and question the passenger.
“The safety and security of its 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.
“After questioning by the authorities, the passenger was cleared to complete his journey so easyJet arranged a later easyJet flight for him. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to the passenger. ”