A Muslim man was told to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger overheard him speaking Arabic on his mobile phone.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old Berkeley graduate, was removed from the plane at Los Angeles International Airport in April this year.
Once seated, he had made a brief call to his uncle in Baghdad, telling him how excited he was to ask a question to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, during a dinner the previous day
Before hanging up, he said the Islamic phrase in Arabic of “inshallah”, meaning “God willing”.
He noticed a woman staring at him as he hung up the phone. He thought at first she had been irritated by how loud he was speaking.
“One guy came with police officers within two minutes — I can’t believe how fast they were — and told me to get off the plane,” he told CNN.
An agent escorted him outside and asked him why he was speaking in Arabic considering “today’s political climate”
“You need to be very honest with us with what you said about the martyrs. Tell us everything you know about the martyrs,” the agent said to him.
The political science graduate explained he had only said “God willing”, and the questioning soon ended – but not before dogs were brought in to sniff his luggage, he was searched and his wallet was taken away.
“The US is the land of freedom. People respect the rule of law. How could people be humiliated like this? That was the real shock,” he told The Independent.
“I lived under Saddam Hussein. I know what discrimination feels like,” he added
Mr Makhzoomi came to the US in 2010 as a legal refugee with his older sister.
He was not allowed to reboard the Oakland-bound plane, and was given a full refund. He booked another flight with Delta.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King said in a statement that staff had decided to investigate “potentially threatening comments” made by the passenger.
“Since that time, we have researched the event internally and also reached out to the customer.
“The internal review determined that it was the content of the conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to the investigation. Our crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate any potential threat. We regret any less than positive experience a customer has on Southwest. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”