Student removed from Southwest plane for speaking Arabic; seeks apology
(Reuters) - A California university student who was taken off a Southwest Airlines flight in Los Angeles after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic was traumatized and he wants an apology, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said on ...
(Reuters) - A California university student who was taken off a Southwest Airlines flight in Los Angeles after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic was traumatized and he wants an apology, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said on Monday.
The incident unfolded as Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old University of California Berkeley student, was waiting for his flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland to take off on April 6.
Makhzoomi, an Iraqi refugee, said he had called his uncle in Baghdad soon after he settled into his seat when he noticed a fellow passenger staring at him, according to Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR's San Francisco Bay Area office, and media reports. The woman then reported him to Southwest staff and Makhzoomi was escorted off the plane.
"As I understand it, the whole thing was incredibly traumatizing," Billoo said.
Neither Southwest nor Makhzoomi responded to requests for further comment. Makhzoomi contacted the council after the incident, Billoo said.
After he was removed from the flight, the student was searched by drug-sniffing dogs and subjected to a physical search, Billoo said. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents questioned Makhzoomi before releasing him without charges, an FBI spokeswoman said.
Southwest acknowledged that staff had taken Makhzoomi off the flight, according to media reports that cited a statement that the airline made on Sunday. Reuters was unable to immediately obtain the statement.
The airline said its employees had acted within protocol in response to a passenger's report of potentially threatening comments. The statement said Southwest does not tolerate discrimination and had made multiple attempts to reach Makhzoomi after he went public with the episode.
After his release, Makhzoomi took a later Delta Air Lines flight to Northern California and wants an apology from Southwest, said Billoo, who described the incident as a case of "flying while Muslim."
"He's concerned that it could happen again to him or to others, and we're worried this is a pattern," Billoo said. "We are concerned there have now been numerous instances of American Muslims facing harassment, intimidation and removal while attempting to fly."
By Suzannah Gonzales