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America West Airlines Sued By Muslim Travelers Removed From Plane: Islamic group says incident resulted from bias and stereotyping

From: Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/22/2000) - Two Muslim passengers have sued America West Airlines over an incident last November in Ohio during which they were detained for asking "suspicious" questions of airline employees.

According to the suit, the pilot of the America West plane ordered passengers to evacuate at a stopover in Columbus, Ohio, and called for a bomb search because he said the men had asked "questions passengers normally wouldn't ask about the plane and where it was going and where it had come from." Both passengers denied acting suspiciously and said their Middle Eastern appearance and use of Arabic were more likely the cause of the incident. No charges were filed and both men were released after five hours.

At the time of the incident, the two Saudi Arabian doctoral students from Arizona told the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that they were humiliated by being handcuffed, escorted from the plane and treated roughly during their detention. Interrogators allegedly made references to "EgyptAir," "Saddam Hussein" and "Moammar Qaddafi."

The passengers were on their way from Arizona to Washington, DC, to attend an academic conference.

The Washington-based Islamic advocacy group says the incident may have been caused by cultural and religious stereotyping related to the recent crash of EgyptAir Flight 990. Immediately following the crash, media reports speculated that the plane crashed when the Muslim co- pilot pushed it into a suicidal dive. The co-pilot's utterance of a common Islamic religious phrase was touted as evidence of criminal intent.

In their suit, filed last Wednesday in U.S. District Court by the Southern Arizona People's Law Center, the two men said that America West subjected them to "harassment, humiliation, and discriminatory treatment" on the grounds of their national origin and race. The complaints listed included false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, and negligence.

The plaintiffs asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. CAIR has asked Muslims and Arabs not to fly on America West until this issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the American Muslim community.

"The issue of airline passenger profiling is of great concern to Muslim and Arab-American travelers because they are often the targets of unfounded suspicion and stereotyping," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. Awad was a member of the civil liberties advisory panel for the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. It was that commission that in 1997 recommended safeguard mechanisms to prevent airline personnel from illegally singling out passengers based on their race, religion, name, mode of dress, or national origin.

There are an estimated six million Muslims in America and 1.2 billion worldwide. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in North America.

(As always, be firm but POLITE. Hostile comments can and WILL be used to harm the image of the Muslim community.)
Contact America West to ask that the airline resolve this incident to the satisfaction of the Muslim passengers. State that you will not fly on America West until that time.

William A. Franke, Chairman of the Board/CEO
America West Holdings Corporation
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ, 85034
TEL: 480-693-0800
FAX: 480-693-5018