Two Muslim men 'humiliated' by airline after removal for texting in Arabic

Two Muslim men 'humiliated' by airline after removal for texting in Arabic
Two Muslim men say they waited for an apology from Alaska Airlines for being publicly humiliated when they were ejected from a flight for sending text messages in Arabic.
3 min read
23 December, 2020
Two Muslim men said they were unfairly targeted by Alaska Airlines [Getty]
Two Muslim men said they were unfairly targeted by Alaska Airlines and had waited for nearly one year for an apology after they were ejected from a flight for sending text messages in Arabic.

Abobakkr and Mohamed, two American citizens of Sudanese descent who were identified only by their first names to protect their privacy, spoke out about the February incident during a video press conference on Monday. 

The two passengers said their civil rights were violated when they were ejected from the domestic flight. 

"When we travelled that day, we were not treated like the rest of the people. It made me feel little and unequal," said Abobakkr.

"Imagine being innocent, and then suddenly you became accused of being criminal," Abobakkr said, according to reports.

Read also: Terrorists are 'generally Muslims' says Ryanair CEO in latest #FlyingWhileMuslim incident

The men were flying with the airline from Seattle to San Francisco on February 17, 2020. Both passengers were travelling in first class and were on a business trip.

According to a statement released by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is representing the two men, Abobakkr exchanged a few text messages with a friend in Arabic while waiting for the flight to take off.

Another passenger saw these texts and reported him to a flight attendant as suspicious, "despite the fact that the passenger did not speak Arabic and could only identify a few emojis and numerals".

The two friends were then asked to deboard the plane and questioned for approximately two hours, they said at Monday's press conference.

Abobakkr said that he was directed to hand over his phone and that officials went through the text messages in question as well as other content on his phone, including his photos.

The text messages were translated by an Alaska Airlines representative, the men said, and they were questioned by a Port of Seattle police officer, the TSA and the FBI.

Even though the text messages were deemed innocuous by police, the remaining passengers were also forced to deplane so that the airline could conduct a security sweep of the cargo.

"After it was determined that there was absolutely no security threat, Alaska Airlines chose to take several humiliating and distressing steps against Abobakkr and Mohamed," CAIR wrote in a press release.

"'Flying while Muslim' has now become a globally recognised phenomenon of suspicion and humiliation, and this phenomenon must come to a stop," said Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Washington state chapter of CAIR.

"We call on Alaska Airlines to address the mistreatment of these men once and for all."

Alaska Airlines responded with a statement that apologised to the passengers for their experience.

"Alaska Airlines strictly prohibits unlawful discrimination, and we take such complaints very seriously," it said.

"We have launched an internal investigation of the incident to determine whether there were any missteps on our part, and are in contact with CAIR and the two guests."

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