Imams plan to file suit after removal from flight

Published: May. 6, 2011 at 8:24 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2011 at 8:24 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Two Muslim men removed from a Memphis flight plan to file suit.

The two were headed to Charlotte for an Islamophobia conference held over the weekend.

"There has to be a reason tied to security. You can't just kick people off a flight due to their race national origin or religion," Attorney Mo Idlibi said.

The pair talked to WBTV Friday and we learned that the TSA cleared them to fly. The two passengers went to gate, they got on an airplane, everything was OK.

But here's where things change: the plane left the gate, before getting to the runway, the pilot said "we need to go back to gate."

That's where things started to change for Masudir Rahman, after being ordered off by a Delta Supervisor.

"He said 'Mr. Rahman, sorry the pilot is not allowing you to enter the plane.'  I said 'For what reason, TSA had a problem and we were cleared, we don't have anything and we are respected people in our community'."

But, according to Rahman, the pilot said, "I'm not going to take to you."

"For what reason, he said some 'passengers might be upset or uncomfortable'," Raham said the pilot told him.

WBTV placed several calls to Delta Airlines.

The men have already retained counsel and the US attorney's office has already been contacted about the incident.

The goal of the Islamophobia conference is to deal with incidents where Muslims feel they were singled out or face prejudice.

The scholars and religious leaders here say they want to be a positive force for change.

One imam says its a two fold process - Muslims have to reach out and the public has to open their minds to learn about the religion.

"That ignorance about Islam lends itself to suspicion...overtime I think when people learn about Islam these fears are going to go away," Imam Faisal Ahmad said.

A spokesperson told us that they were aware of the situation and this happening with one of their sub-carriers Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which operates the flight.

A spokesperson from ASA sent this response to reporter Steve Crump:

"Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte returned to the gate to allow for additional screening of a passenger and the passenger's companion.

We take security and safety very seriously, and the event is currently under investigation.

Compensation and re-accommodation on the next available flight were immediately offered to the passenger and the passenger's travel companion.

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused."

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jon Allen in Atlanta confirmed the incident Friday and said it was not that agency's decision to deny boarding.

On Sunday, WBTV learned of a third imam who was denied boarding twice on an American Airlines flight.

"She specifically said our airline will not allow you to fly on this flight..I said why..they said contact this number they'll explain," Al-Amin Latif said.

American Airlines released this statement: "There was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this. It was a situation that just got very complicated in a hurry."

By the conclusion of the Islamophobia conference, WBTV heard half a dozen Muslim experienced some kind of issue with airlines.

"I think it's embarrassing to us as Americans," Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America Safaa Zarzour said.

Zarzour says it's embarrassing that some people still know so little about Islam.

"Right after 9/11 I can understand people not knowing better. Two, three years later I can understand. Ten years later it really is not an excuse anymore," Zarzour said.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.