When Islamic terrorists hijacked four airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, crashing two into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and a fourth into a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 Americans, no one could have imagined the tragic events of that day would set off a thriving cottage industry in which Muslims sue U.S. airlines over discrimination complaints.
Yet that is exactly what seems to be happening as a rash of such lawsuits continue to be filed, largely by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a “civil rights group” designated by the Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terror-funding plot and by the United Arab Emirates as a terrorist organization.
At least a half-dozen lawsuits have been reported in the past several months.
While the Muslim plaintiffs themselves may be found to have posed no threat to security, and their personal complaints are understandable, the airlines and federal law enforcement in the wake of 9/11 have reason to be concerned about the intent of Muslim passengers who act suspiciously as well as of CAIR’s agenda, particularly in light of a CAIR-supported incident that came to be know as the “flying imams.”
On Nov. 20, 2006, six Muslim clerics were removed from a US Airways Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight after engaging in behavior that alarmed both passengers and crew before takeoff. Many on board feared the imams were testing security procedures in a dry run for a future hijacking. The men prayed loudly in Arabic, refused to sit in their assigned seats, fanned out in the cabin in pairs to occupy the front, middle and rear exit rows, ordered seat-belt extenders they didn’t need, criticized the Iraq war and President Bush, talked about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden and other disconcerting behaviors.
CAIR brought suit against not only US Airways and the airport authority, but even the fearful passengers who had simply reported the suspicious activity.
Outraged at the obvious chilling effect the case had on citizens who had been encouraged post-9/11 to be vigilant about security, Congress passed a law to protect citizens from being sued for reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement. The passengers were subsequently dropped from the case. But US Airways settled for an undisclosed amount with the imams.
The spokesman for the imams, Omar Shahin, was involved in a similar disturbance aboard another airline several years earlier, as was CAIR.
In 1999, two Muslim college students were removed from an America West flight to Washington from Phoenix after twice attempting to open the cockpit.
The FBI later suspected it was a dry run for the 9/11 hijackings, according the 9/11 Commission Report.
But, at the time, authorities didn’t have enough suspicion to hold the students, and the Muslim men filed racial-profiling suits against the airline, which later merged with US Airways.
CAIR represented the students, calling it an “ugly case of racial profiling” and urging Muslims to boycott America West.
Similar to the flying-imam event, the two Muslims aboard the America West flight spoke loudly in Arabic despite being fluent in English, switched their seats and roamed the plane from the tail section to the cockpit, all the while asking suspicious questions about the plane and its routes.
When the settlement with the imams was announced, investigative reporter Paul Sperry said that while CAIR hailed it as a “victory for civil rights,” it was a “victory for future hijackers,” creating a “chilling effect on law enforcement and security at our nation’s airports.”
‘Flying while Muslim’
A little more than 10 years later, CAIR is set to release a report claiming it has documented a sharp spike in anti-Muslim incidents that will include cases of “flying while Muslim,” “inappropriate questions by the FBI” and “terror watch lists.”
The report, to be released Tuesday, claims a more than 50 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2016 over the previous year.
“This report shows not only that anti-Muslim bias incidents have increased sharply, but also that there is a disturbing trend toward the increasing use of violence against American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim,” said Corey Saylor, director of CAIR’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia and co-author of the report.
In March, CAIR filed suit against United Airlines on behalf of a Muslim couple from the Chicago area who claim “inherent bias” caused them to be removed March 20, 2016, from a SkyWest flight, operating as United Express, from Chicago to Washington, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In January, four friends — three Muslims and a Sikh — filed a lawsuit alleging they were asked to leave an American Airlines flight from Toronto to New York in early December because of their appearance.
Last July, CAIR sued on behalf of a Muslim couple who were removed from a Delta Air Lines flight in Paris preparing to take off for Cincinnati. A flight crew member had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the Muslim couple in the second row of economy class. The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating, she allegedly told the pilot.
CAIR joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in April in a suit against Customs and Border Protection seeking records from its field offices in Tampa and Miami to show how Muslim travelers were affected by President Trump’s executive order restricting travel from six terror-hotbed countries.
CAIR also recently has sued airlines on behalf of Muslim employees.
In August, CAIR sued ExpressJet after the airline suspended a Muslim flight attendant for refusing to serve passengers alcohol.
This month, a Muslim flight attendant from New Jersey filed suit against American Airlines alleging his co-workers repeatedly called him a terrorist and FBI agents came to his house after he complained about the harassment to company officials.
A blog author, meanwhile, is the target of a CAIR lawsuit that is expected to go to trial this fall after eight years of litigation. Former Air Force special agent David Gaubatz and his son, Chris Gaubatz, conducted an undercover investigation of CAIR published in “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America”, which documents the group’s Islamic-supremacist agenda.
‘Safety of flight issue’
In the Chicago case, CAIR officials told the Tribune that the alleged discrimination against Mohamad and Eaman Shebley comes at a time of growing anxiety among Muslims who worry they can be targeted and removed from flights just for making other passengers feel uncomfortable.
Ahmed Rehab, CAIR Chicago’s executive director, said the Shebley case “affects our entire community.”
“There is a real strong sense of apprehension every time one of these stories emerge. People start to think, ‘Can I speak Arabic in an airport?’ Nobody should have to bite their tongue and start to feel as if they’re committing a crime just because they need to communicate with their elderly mother or father-in-law while standing in line in an American airport,” he said.
The lawsuit says the Shebleys were removed from the flight after asking for an extra strap to safely fasten their youngest child’s booster seat. The pilot told the family, according to the suit, that the couple’s removal was a “safety of flight issue.”
But the couple and their children completed their journey to the nation’s capital on a later flight without incident and were later offered reimbursement for their flights and any expenses incurred for the inconvenience, as well as five free round-trip tickets anywhere in the continental United States.
In a statement, a spokeswoman with United declined to comment on the suit, but added, “Both SkyWest and United hold our employees to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
In the American Airlines case in New York City, a man identified only by the initials “W.H” in a lawsuit filed along with three of his friends, Shan Anand, Faimul Alam, and another friend identified by the initials M.K., alleged they were asked to leave a Republic Airways flight operated by American Airlines flight from Toronto to New York in early December because of their appearance.
When they asked the flight crew why they were being removed, the flight attendant told them to exit “peacefully” and “demanded” they return to the gate and await further directions, according to the lawsuit.
The men are suing for $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.
After the plane took off, the complaint said, the airline agent told the men “they could not board because the crew members, and specifically the captain, felt uneasy and uncomfortable with their presence on the flight and as such, refused to fly unless they were removed from the flight.” When the men asked the agent whether their appearance had contributed to their removal, “being that they are dark skinned and had beards,” the agent responded that their appearance “did not help.”
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, told CNN he expects incidents of this kind to continue.
“I think it is symptomatic of the overall rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in our society. We saw a multitude of these incidents after the San Bernardino (California) shootings. I think these incidents will only increase, unfortunately,” Hooper said. “It’s this whole thing where the flight crew is uncomfortable or the passengers are uncomfortable. Why are they uncomfortable? Because of a perceived faith and ethnicity that leads to them being thrown off planes. It’s very troubling.”
Hooper, however, along with another CAIR leader, are on record expressing a desire to replace the U.S. system of government with an Islamic state.
“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” he said in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”
In 2003, Hooper told radio host Michael Medved: “If Muslims ever become a majority in the United States, it would be safe to assume that they would want to replace the U.S. Constitution with Islamic law, as most Muslims believe that God’s law is superior to man-made law.”
CAIR founder Omar Ahmad told Muslims in Northern California in 1998 that they were in America not to assimilate but to help assert Islam’s rule over the country.
Remarkably, the CAIR-backed spokesman for the flying imams, Shahin, admitted to being a former supporter of Osama bin Laden while running the Saudi-backed Islamic Center of Tucson, which functioned as one of al-Qaida’s main hubs in North America.
Shahin knew both of the students who were kicked off the 1999 America West flight, as documented in “Muslim Mafia.” The book reported Shahin ministered to them at his former mosque in Tucson, Arizona, where they had attended college on visas from Saudi Arabia. When they were arrested, Shahin rushed to their defense along with CAIR.
FBI investigators believe bin Laden operated a cell at that same mosque.
Hani Hanjour, the Saudi hijacker who piloted the plane that hit the Pentagon, worshiped there along with bin Laden’s one-time personal secretary, according to the 9/11 report. Bin Laden’s former chief of logistics was president of the mosque before Shahin took over.
“These people don’t continue to come back to Arizona because they like the sunshine or they like the state,” said FBI agent Kenneth Williams in “Muslim Mafia.”
“Something was established there, and it’s been there for a long time.”
The name of one of the two Muslims on the America West flight, Muhammad Al-Qudhaieen, turned up in Williams’ investigation of Islamic flight-school students in the Phoenix area, and he later became a material witness in the 9/11 investigation.
And as it turns out, his partner, Hamdan al-Shalawi, had contacts with al-Qaida operatives, according to the 9/11 report, and trained for attacks in Afghanistan. Both were deported back to Saudi Arabia.
The FBI cut off ties to CAIR in January 2009 after the group was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case in Texas, the largest terrorism-finance case in U.S. history.
More than a dozen CAIR leaders have been charged or convicted of terrorism-related crimes.
FBI wiretap evidence from the Holy Land case showed CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad was at an October 1993 meeting of Hamas leaders and activists in Philadelphia. CAIR, according to the evidence, was born out of a need to give a “media twinkle” to the Muslim leaders’ agenda of supporting violent jihad abroad while slowly institutionalizing Islamic law in the U.S.
A federal judge later determined that the Justice Department provided “ample evidence” to designate CAIR as an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator, affirming the Muslim group had been involved in “a conspiracy to support Hamas.”