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The New Arab

Arab student removed from US flight demands apology

Staff called the FBI after Makhzoomi blamed Islamophobia for the incident [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 April, 2016

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An Iraqi student who was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after speaking Arabic during a phone conversation on Monday demanded the airline apologise for the humiliation he suffered.

Iraqi student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after speaking Arabic during a phone conversation said Monday he was degraded and humiliated and demanded a public apology.

Makhzoomi, who arrived in the US in 2010 as a refugee, was removed from a domestic flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, California, earlier this month after another passenger claimed she heard the young student say something threatening in Arabic.

"To be honest with you, I really was intimidated," Makhzoomi told The Associated Press on Monday. "It was an overwhelming process. They made me feel as if I were guilty."

The 26-year-old University of California, Berkeley, student said his troubles began as he was excitedly telling his uncle in Baghdad that he was on his way home after attending a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Makhzoomi then noticed a woman in the next row staring at him, at which point he told his uncle he would call back later, and ended the conversation with the phrase "inshallah," meaning "God willing."

Two minutes later, he said, a Southwest employee approached and told him he would have to leave the plane.

In the terminal he said the airline employee, accompanied by three police officers, told him he should have known better than to speak in Arabic on an airplane, given how it might rattle people these days.

Makhzoomi said he did speak briefly with an airline representative on Monday, but the only thing he was interested in hearing was a public apology.

The student was then interrogated by Los Angeles International Airport police and FBI agents who, according to Makhzoomi, asked him about his thoughts on martyrdom.

Makhzoomi said that the airline employee called the FBI after blaming the student for delaying the flight, to which he responded: "No, I think this is what Islamophobia got this country into."

After being released he was told he couldn't return home on a Southwest flight and his ticket was refunded.

"We would like the opportunity to speak with Mr. Makhzoomi further about his experience and have reached out to him several times," the airline said in a statement.

Makhzoomi said he did speak briefly with an airline representative on Monday, but the only thing he was interested in hearing was a public apology.

"I hope I can get that apology because we need to solve this problem," he said. "But we cannot solve any problem without mentioning what is the problem and that is that Islamophobia is real and it's been used by many people and it's time to say enough is enough."

Activists have started an online petition demanding that Southwest Airlines apologise to Makhzoomi and other Arab and Muslim customers who have suffered similar ordeals.

The petition mentions the case of a Somali American woman who was removed from Southwest flight on 13 April after she tried to switch seats with a fellow passenger so that she could get a window view.

"No one should be made to feel unsafe on a flight or denied service because of their race, religion, or the language they speak," said the petition.

The petition also called on the airline to review their policies for removing customers from flights and implement anti-bias training for flight crews.

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