The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of a Muslim-American man who said he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for speaking in Arabic on his cellphone.
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was a public policy student at the University of California, Berkeley, at the time of the April 2016 incident. While awaiting takeoff at Los Angeles International Airport, Makhzoomi called his uncle to tell him about meeting and having dinner with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
What does the lawsuit say occurred?
But another passenger heard Makhzoomi speaking in Arabic and reported him to Southwest, a CAIR news release said. Makhzoomi was then removed from the plane, questioned by law enforcement and barred from returning to the flight. The suit said nothing happened to non-Arabic-speaking passengers using their cellphones.
The lawsuit said when Shoaib Ahmed — a Southwest agent named as a defendant in the suit — came to remove Makhzoomi from the plane, Ahmed tried to speak to Makhzoomi in Arabic. But Makhzoomi — who also is a refugee from Iraq — asked Ahmed to please speak in English, the suit added.
“You seem that you were having a serious conversation on the phone,” Ahmed told Makhzoomi, according to the suit. “Who were you talking to?”
After Makhzoomi told him, Ahmed replied, “Why are you talking in Arabic? You know the environment is very dangerous,” the suit claimed, adding that Ahmed told Makhzoomi he was being removed from the flight for speaking in Arabic.
Makhzoomi was then forced to stand in a corner in the terminal for 45 minutes “before being aggressively patted down and invasively searched in front of a crowd of onlookers and half a dozen police officers, including a K-9 unit,” the suit said. Makhzoomi “felt humiliated, in shock, confused, and began to silently cry,” the suit said.