(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
UC Berkeley student Khairuldeen Mahkzoomi was removed from a Southwest flight and questioned by the FBI two weeks ago for using a traditional Arabic greeting during a phone call, The Daily Californian reported.
Makhzoomi, who had boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, was reported to authorities by another passenger after he said the phrase "inshallah" meaning "if God is willing" to his uncle in Baghdad on the phone.
Makhzoomi, a refugee who fled Iraq in 2002 after his father was killed by Saddam Hussein, had attended the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the previous night.
Makhzoomi realized something was amiss when he noticed a female passenger was glaring at him, “She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he commented to the Daily Californian
As the passenger left her seat, he feared the worst, "I realized what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’”
The passenger reported hearing Makhzoomi utter the word "shahid" meaning martyr, often used in association with acts of terror.
After Makhzoomi was escorted from the plane and informed he would not be permitted to return, he was subsequently searched by security officials and interrogated by the FBI.
Makhzoomi related to the Daily Californian
that the experience brought back painful memories, “The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me. I escaped Iraq because of the war, because of Saddam and what he did to my father."
Makhzoomi considered taking legal action against Southwest Airlines but decided against it.
The airline company offered this response to the event: “We regret any less than positive experience on board our aircraft. … Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”