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Iraqi Student deboarded from US flight after he used 'Insha Allah' in conversation

India TV News Desk 19 Apr 2016, 13:37:53 IST
India TV News Desk

California: A 26 year old college student got the shock of his life when he was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight and questioned by the FBI for having a conversation in Arabic.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who arrived in the U.S. in 2010 as an Iraqi refugee,was removed from a 9 April flight before it took off.

Makhzoomi,a student at University of California, Berkeley said he was talking to his uncle on the phone about attending a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

When he noticed a woman in the next row staring at him he told his uncle he’d call back later, adding he ended the conversation with the phrase “inshallah,” meaning “God willing.”

"I just called him and talked to him about it and everything, and he told me (to) call him when I get to Oakland, and I said, 'insha'Allah insha'Allah (God willing), I will call you when I arrive.' And during the conversation a lady was staring at me," Makhzoomi said.

Two minutes later, he said, a Southwest employee approached and told him he’d have to leave the plane.

Now he's pushing for an apology from the airline and spreading the word about what happened, which he calls a clear case of Islamaphobia.

The airline said in a statement that it regretted what occurred, but under federal regulations it had no alternative but to remove Mr.Makhzoomi.

“To be honest with you, I really was intimidated,” Mr. Makhzoomi told The Associated Press on Monday. “It was an overwhelming process. They made me feel as if I were guilty.”

“The statement he made was not illegal, there was nothing that involved threats or anything like that, so he was released,” airport police Officer Rob Pendregon said.

In the terminal he said the man, accompanied by three police officers, told him he should have known better than to speak in Arabic on an airplane, given how it might rattle people these days.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,’ ” he said he replied.

The FBI was called, he said, after the employee blamed him for delaying the flight and he responded, “No, I think this is what Islamophobia got this country into.”

After being released he was told he couldn’t return home on a Southwest flight and his ticket was refunded.

“We would like the opportunity to speak with Mr. Makhzoomi further about his experience and have reached out to him several times,” the airline said in a statement.

Mr. Makhzoomi said he did speak briefly with an airline representative on Monday, but he told the woman the only thing he was interested in hearing was a public apology. Southwest did not respond to an email asking if that was a possibility.

Meanwhile, Mr. Makhzoomi said he’s been contacted by people who have offered to put him in touch with top-notch lawyers if he wants to sue. Still, he said, all he really wants is the apology.

“I hope I can get that apology because we need to solve this problem,” he said. “But we cannot solve any problem without mentioning what is the problem and that is that Islamophobia is real and it’s been used by many people and it’s time to say enough is enough.”