The two men say a “suspicious” hand-wave and bathroom visit was all it took for American to deboard the entire plane and send the FBI after them.
Two Muslim men say their American Airlines flight was canceled because cabin crew suspected them of being terrorists.
According to CNN, Issam Abdallah and Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh were approached by FBI agents after the entire plane was forced to deboard. Agents tailed through the airport before setting up an impromptu interrogation. Apparently a flight attendant had grown suspicious after one of the men went to the plane’s washroom and flushed the toilet twice.
“It was the most horrible, humiliating day of my life,” Abdallah said during a news conference, hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Thursday. “Those who are responsible must be held accountable.”
American Airlines said in a statement that the flight was canceled “due to concerns raised by a crew member and a passenger.”
“American and all of its regional partners have an obligation to take safety and security concerns raised by crew members and passengers seriously,” American said.
CNN notes that the American flight was operated by Mesa Airlines. In its own response, Mesa said it was conducting a “thorough investigation of this matter.”
However, the sequence of events is a little puzzling. CNN recounts how Abdallah and Alkhawaldeh boarded their flight on September 14th. Expected to depart from Birmingham, Alabama, and fly into Dallas, everything seemed normal.
For one reason or another, the flight was delayed after boarding had completed. Crew explained there was a maintenance problem, so Abdallah took the opportunity to use the bathroom. When he came out, he was surprised to see a flight attendant standing next to the door—almost as if she’d be listening to him inside.
Ten minutes later, everyone was instructed to deboard. When Abdallah and Alkhawaldeh went to a coffee shop inside the terminal, they noticed police were following them.
That’s when an FBI approached and asked both men a series of questions; their luggage was also re-screened by the TSA.
Afterward, the FBI agent purportedly apologized to both men.
“You feel like you are a criminal in front of them,” Abdallah said. “I felt like I am discriminated against my ethnicity, my religion.”
He and Alkhawaldeh, along with the rest of the passengers, were rebooked onto another flight.
For Alkhawaldeh, though, the experience was especially disappointing—he was planning to celebrate his 29th wedding anniversary with his wife, children and grandkids the next day.
“Thank you American Airlines for ruining such a happy occasion,” he said, adding that he’s been a loyal customer for over 30 years.
“I have taken hundreds of flights, I have flown over 1,000,000 miles with American,” Alkhawaldeh said. “I have the highest elite status—executive premium. And to be treated with disrespect, and suspicion, to be racially profiled, to be followed by law enforcement officers for hours in front of hundreds of passengers, to be questioned in public.”
CAIR-Dallas’s executive director, Ekram Haque, said the incident shouldn’t come as a shock.
“It has happened to numerous Muslim-Americans whose only fault is that they are flying while Muslim,” Haque said. “The incident has left these two respected community leaders traumatized and humiliated and they want justice.”