LOS ANGELES: A college student and Iraqi refugee pulled from a Southwest Airlines aircraft says he was dishonoured and shamed and wants a public apology.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who arrived in the US in 2010 as an Iraqi refugee, was aloof from the April 9 flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, California, after the carrier said another Arabic-speaking passenger stated hearing him say a bit that worried her.
The airline said in a report that it lamented what happened, but under federal rules it had no substitute but to remove Makhzoomi.
“To be honest with you, I really was intimidated,” Makhzoomi told The Associated Press on Monday. “It was an overwhelming process. They made me feel as if I were guilty.”
He was released after being interrogated by Los Angeles International Airport police and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who, according to Makhzoomi, asked him about his opinions on martyrdom. He said he furiously told them he had no curiosity in such stuffs, and they finally understood him.
“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.
The 26-year-old University of California, Berkeley, senior said his worries began as he was enthusiastically telling his uncle in Baghdad that he was on his way home after joining a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
He said most of the discussion was ordinary, covering topics like who was there and what the food was like, but at one point he noted someone posed a question about the militant Islamic State group.
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 slogan “Inshallah”, meaning “God willing”.
Two minutes later, he said, a Southwest worker loomed and told him he’d have to leave the plane.
In the terminal he said the man, escorted by three police officers, told him he should have known better than to speak in Arabic on an airplane, given how it might shake 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 postponing the flight and he replied, “No, I think this is what Islamophobia got this country into.”
After being on the loose he was told he couldn’t return home on a Southwest flight and his ticket was reimbursed.
“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.
Makhzoomi said he did express temporarily with an airline representative 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.
In the meantime, Makhzoomi said he’s been contacted by people who have offered to put him in touch with first-rate 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.”