Los Angeles: A 26-year-old Muslim student in the US, who was talking on the phone about a question on the Islamic State he asked to the UN Secretary-General, was booted from a Southwest flight after another passenger felt threatened when he spoke in Arabic.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, student at University of California, who came to the US as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
Makhzoomi, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I was very excited about the event, so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” Makhzoomi was quoted as saying by the New York Times. At the end of the conversation, he and his uncle shared a customary farewell – “inshallah,” which translates to “if God is willing.”
He told his uncle about the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State.
A nearby passenger overheard Makhzoomi’s conversation with his uncle and felt alarmed by his “potentially threatening comments,” according to a statement from Southwest Airlines. When he made eye contact with her, the woman left her seat and proceeded to the front of the plane.
“She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he said. “Then I realised what was happening and I was just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me’,” the report said. Later, an Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”
Makhzoomi said he was afraid, and that the employee spoke to him “like I was an animal.”
Three FBI agents took Makhzoomi to private room for questioning. They told him that the Arabic-speaking employee had been offended by his insinuation of anti-Muslim bias. The woman had told airline staff that she heard him say “Shahid,” meaning martyr, a term associated with jihad.
Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there had been at least six cases of Muslims being pulled off flights so far this year, she said.