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Student removed from flight for speaking Arabic

29th Jul 2016
Student removed from flight for speaking Arabic

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was removed from the Southwest Airline flight and later questioned by FBI

(Photo: Facebook)

Ala Abbas

An Iraqi-born student in America was prevented from boarding a flight home on April 6 after a passenger became suspicious of his phone conversation in Arabic. Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was removed from the Southwest Airline flight and later questioned by FBI.

The 26-year-old political science researcher was on his way back from a dinner with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, in Los Angeles when the incident happened. He was on the phone to his uncle to tell him about the trip, when his conversation caused another passenger to look at him suspiciously and leave the plane.

Makhzoomi was questioned by airline staff who blamed him for causing the flight to be delayed, to which he responded: “It’s not me, this is what Islamophobia got this country into”. Makhzoomi claims that this comment prompted staff to call in the FBI.

He was also searched by police in the terminal, with half a dozen officers and a crowd of onlookers present. “This is not the way to treat a human being”, he told CNN

According to Makhzoomi, one of the airline staff who questioned him said, “Why are you talking in Arabic? You know the environment is very dangerous.” He believes initial suspicions arose in the passenger because of his use of Arabic phrases like “Inshallah” meaning God-willing, a commonly used phrase by Muslims.

Three agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took him to a private room and questioned him about his family. They asked him questions about his father, an Iraqi diplomat who was killed by Saddam Hussein in 2002.

A spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, Ari Dekofsky, confirmed that agents responded to the airport that day but had found there to be no threat.

Makhzoomi is still waiting for an apology and an explanation for why he was removed from the flight. In a statement, Southwest Airlines said he was removed because of “potentially threatening comments made aboard our aircraft”, and added that it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.

“We wouldn’t remove passengers from flights without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures,” the company said. “We regret any less than positive experience onboard our aircraft. We understand local law enforcement spoke with that passenger as the aircraft departed the gate. To respect the privacy of those involved, we will not publicly share any further specifics of the event.”

Spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ahmed Rehab, said: “We are tired of Muslim-looking passengers being removed from flights for the flimsiest reasons, under a cryptic claim of ‘security’”.

In the same month, a Muslim passenger wearing the hijab was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in Chicago after she asked to sit next to the window. No explanation was offered for her removal and she was re-booked onto a later flight.

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