Southwest Airlines removed a college student from an airplane after a passenger heard him speaking Arabic and notified the flight crew. A senior at the University of California at Berkeley, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, says on April 6, he was speaking to his uncle in Baghdad in Arabic, when he noticed a female passenger staring at him.
Seated on a Southwest flight heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Makhzoomi said he didn’t understand why she was staring at him. But then, according to an account he gave the Daily Californian, a Berkeley student-run paper, he saw the woman get up from her seat and thought, “I hope she’s not reporting me.”
When he escorted off the plane and detained by security officers, he became upset. “I told them, ‘This is what Islamophobia looks like,’” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And that’s when they said I could not get on the plane, and they called the FBI.”
The passenger apparently said that she heard the word “shahid,” which means martyr. Makhzoomi denied that and said that he used the common Arabic expression, “inshallah,” which means “God willing,” according to the Daily Californian.
Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old Iraqi refugee, left Iraq in 2002 after his father, an Iraqi diplomat, was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime. He and his family fled to Jordan before settling in the U.S.. He had called his uncle from the plane because he wanted to tell him about a dinner he’d attended the day before where he heard the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speak. “I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
At the gate, Makhzoomi says authorities questioned him and one allegedly publicly searched his genital area. “That is when I couldn’t handle it and my eyes began to water,” he told the Berkeley student paper. “The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid.”
A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. told The New York Times that agents found there to be no threat. “We determined that no further action was necessary,” she said.
Southwest refunded his ticket.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there have been at least six similar types of cases of Muslims removed from flights this year. Another Muslim passenger was removed from a flight in Chicago last week. CAIR said it is concerned about “baseless harassment” of Muslim passengers.
Southwest Airlines released a statement: