Are the flying imams mau-mauing airline passengers?
From a report in the Washington Times:
Air marshals, pilots and security officials yesterday expressed concern that airline passengers and crews will be reluctant to report suspicious behavior aboard for fear of being called “racists,” after several Muslim imams made that charge in a press conference Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Six imams, or Muslim holy men, accused a US Airways flight crew of inappropriately evicting them from a flight last week in Minneapolis after several passengers said the imams tried to intimidate them by loudly praying and moving around the airplane. The imams urged Congress to enact laws to prohibit ethnic and religious “profiling.”
Federal air marshals and others yesterday urged passengers to remain vigilant to threats. “The crew and passengers act as our additional eyes and ears on every flight,” said a federal air marshal in Las Vegas, who asked that his name not be used. “If [crew and passengers] are afraid of reporting suspicious individuals out of fear of being labeled a racist or bigot, then terrorists will certainly use those fears to their advantage in future aviation attacks.”
…The imams say they were removed from the Phoenix-bound flight because they were praying quietly in the concourse. They had been in Minnesota for a conference sponsored by the North American Imams Federation.
But other passengers told police and aviation security officials a different version of the incident. They said suspicious behavior of the imams led to their eviction from the flight. The imams, they said, tested the forbearance of the passengers and flight crew in what the air marshal called a “[political correctness] probe.”
“The political correctness needs to be left at the boarding gate,” the marshal said. “Instilling politically correct fears into the minds of airline passengers is nothing less than psychological terrorism.”
The passengers and flight crew said the imams prayed loudly before boarding; switched seating assignments to a configuration used by terrorists in previous incidents; asked for seat-belt extensions, which could be used as weapons; and shouted hostile slogans about al Qaeda and the war in Iraq.
Flight attendants said three of the six men, who did not appear to be overweight, asked for the seat-belt extensions, which include heavy metal buckles, and then threw them to the floor under their seats.
Robert MacLean, a former federal air marshal, expressed the fear yesterday that the situation “will make crews and passengers in the future second-guess reporting these events, thus compromising the aircraft’s security out of fear of being labeled a dogmatist or a bigot, or being sued.”