Two Muslim Clerics Taken Off US Flight

Washington, May 8 (IANS/EFE) Two Muslim clerics were taken off a flight from Memphis to Charlotte in the US following orders of the pilot who justified the decision by saying they made the other passengers "uncomfortable", the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Saturday.

The incident occurred Friday at Memphis Airport, as the two Imams - Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul - were travelling to North Carolina for a congress on prejudice against Islam in the US.

Both were wearing traditional Muslim garb and were forced to deplane when the airliner had already taxied onto the runway for takeoff.

""TSA (Transportation Security Administration) came on and pulled them off and said the pilot was refusing to fly with them because passengers were uncomfortable with them," Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.

But the TSA said through its spokesman, Jon Allen, that the decision not to allow the two passengers on the flight was made by the airline, not the TSA. He said they had been screened and approved to fly.

For its part, Atlantic Southeast Airlines issued a brief communique on the incident saying that the airliner "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," the airline said.

Rahman, a professor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, described the incident as "ridiculous" and said that this would not happen in any other country in the world.

"I think some action should be taken so this won't happen with other people, any religion, any person, any professional," he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

"It's racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion." Rahman said. "If they understood Islam, they wouldn't do this."

Both passengers were booked by the company on a later flight, but were unable to arrive in time for the congress in Charlotte.

Hopper acknowledged that the death of Osama bin Laden could be making people more concerned in such circumstances.

US intelligence services are on the alert now that the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation has threatened reprisals for the death of its leader Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was killed last Sunday in a US commando operation that penetrated his Pakistan hideout in the town of Abbottabad outside Islamabad.


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