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"FLYING IMAMS" CONTROVERSY (2006)

On November 21, 2006, six Islamic clerics (Imams) were among the passengers waiting to board US Airways Flight 300, which was scheduled to fly from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona. The clerics had just attended a conference of the North American Imams Federation in Minneapolis. Shortly before boarding, a number of fellow passengers heard the Imams making anti-American comments vis à vis the Iraq War, and praying loudly (with repeated chants of "Allah, Allah, Allah") in the airport terminal.

Then, when the Imams boarded the flight, they sat in separate sections of the plane; some of them asked for seat-belt extensions (which the flight attendants thought the Imams did not need). When a number of passengers expressed alarm regarding the Imams' behavior (and concern that the seat-belt extensions might be used as weapons), authorities required the latter to deboard the plane prior to takeoff.

The six Imams subsequently depicted themselves as victims of "Islamophobia." "They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way," said Omar Shahin, Imam and director of Islamic Center in Tucson, Arizona. Shahin subsequently called for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to boycott US Airways unless the company apologized and agreed to change its policy. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a complaint "because," as CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper put it, "unfortunately this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it's one that we've been addressing for some time." Similarly, Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, depicted US Airways' action as an act of racism and "Islamophobia." The North American Imams Federation issued the following statement:

"At a time when Imams in the United States try hard to spread the spirit of tolerance between Muslims and their fellow American citizens, six Imams were degradingly detained for five hours at Minneapolis airport on November 11, 2006. This shocked not only Imams but also all Muslims inside and outside the United States. For Muslims, an Imam is a role model and an actual representative of their faith. It is sad that what was deemed a 'suspicious act' of the detained Imams was nothing but performing a mandatory prayer, which has to be done at a set time. This incident has accentuated the feeling that in our American society there is still discrimination based on one's faith even though this violates the American constitution and norm."

It was subsequently learned that Omar Shahin was affiliated with a Hamas-linked organization, KindHearts, and that he acknowledged having had a connection to Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. At his former mosque in Tucson, Shahin had ministered to two college students who had been removed from an America West flight after twice attempting to open the cockpit. The FBI suspected the incident was a "dry run" for the 9/11 hijackings, according the 9/11 Commission Report. One of the students, Hamdan al-Shalawi, had trained for attacks in Afghanistan. The other, Muhammed al-Qudhaieen, became a material witness in the 9/11 investigation. Even so, the pair filed racial-profiling lawsuits against America West, which later became part of US Airways; Shahin came to their defense.

Shahin's predecessor as Director of the Islamic Center in Tucson was Osama bin Laden's financier and head of logistics. FBI investigators believe bin Laden operated a cell at the Islamic Center. Hani Hanjour, the hijacker who eventually would pilot the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, attended the Tucson mosque along with bin Laden's one-time personal secretary, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

In January 2007, the six Imams from US Airways Flight 300 filed a lawsuit against not only the airline, but also against the passengers who had complained about the Imams' behavior. The plaintiffs dropped their suit in August 2007, and ultimately settled their complaint for an undisclosed sum of money in a federal district court on October 20, 2009.

RESOURCES:

Suspicious Behavior of Imams Ordered off Plane Was Premeditated to Provoke Removal and Litigation
By Militant Islam Monitor
December 13, 2006

The Minneapolis Six Sabotage Airline Security
By Janet Levy
November 28, 2006

Imams Gone Wild
By Paul Sperry
November 30, 2006


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