Update on the story of the 6 imams who were removed from plane at Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport
The Washington Times has a follow-up story on the behavior the imams exhibited that led some passengers and flight crew to believe the six imams were engaged in more than just Islamic prayer (emphasis added):
Muslim religious leaders removed from a Minneapolis flight last week exhibited behavior associated with a security probe by terrorists and were not merely engaged in prayers, according to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials.
Witnesses said three of the imams were praying loudly in the concourse and repeatedly shouted “Allah” when passengers were called for boarding US Airways Flight 300 to Phoenix.
“I was suspicious by the way they were praying very loud,” the gate agent told the Minneapolis Police Department.
Passengers and flight attendants told law-enforcement officials the imams switched from their assigned seats to a pattern associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks and also found in probes of U.S. security since the attacks — two in the front row first-class, two in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle and two in the rear of the cabin.
“That would alarm me,” said a federal air marshal who asked to remain anonymous. “They now control all of the entry and exit routes to the plane.”
A pilot from another airline said: “That behavior has been identified as a terrorist probe in the airline industry.”
Three of the men asked for seat-belt extenders, although two flight attendants told police the men were not oversized. One flight attendant told police she “found this unsettling, as crew knew about the six [passengers] on board and where they were sitting.” Rather than attach the extensions, the men placed the straps and buckles on the cabin floor, the flight attendant said.
The imams said they were not discussing politics and only spoke in English, but witnesses told law enforcement that the men spoke in Arabic and English, criticizing the war in Iraq and President Bush, and talking about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
The imams who claimed two first-class seats said their tickets were upgraded. The gate agent told police that when the imams asked to be upgraded, they were told no such seats were available. Nevertheless, the two men were seated in first class when removed.
A flight attendant said one of the men made two trips to the rear of the plane to talk to the imam during boarding, and again when the flight was delayed because of their behavior. Aviation officials, including air marshals and pilots, said these actions alone would not warrant a second look, but the combination is suspicious.
“That’s like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. You just can’t do that anymore,” said Robert MacLean, a former air marshal.
Sounds to me like the flight attendants did exactly what they were supposed to do. They – along with some alert passengers – identified suspicious behavior consistent with the possibility that someone or some people on board could have been planning on executing a terrorist attack. In the end, this may turn out to be much ado about nothing, but the flight crew shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about doing their jobs, nor the passengers for being concerned. Considering the number of flight attendants and pilots who had their throats slashed by the 9-11 hijackers, and the thousands of people murdered that day both on airliners and in buildings, I don’t blame any airline nor passenger for attempting to be pro-active to try to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen on their flights.
Update: Check out the latest Vent on this issue.