- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

US Airways and Minneapolis airport officials are demanding a jury trial in a civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams who were removed from a flight for suspicious behavior.

The airline and Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which oversees Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, are also claiming immunity for their employees named in the suit, citing a “John Doe” law passed by Congress last year that, among other things, protects people acting in an official capacity to prevent terrorist attacks.

“We believe the police officers acted appropriately and that it is important that airports across the nation be able to take action when there is a reasonable belief that travelers could be threatened,” said Patrick Hogan, MAC spokesman.

“In this case, there were travelers and flight crew members who raised concerns, and we worked with federal authorities who interviewed the imams,” Mr. Hogan said. “We believe the process worked as it should to protect the traveling public.”

Frederick Goetz, the imams’ lawyer, declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was amended Dec. 14 and now names six airport police officers as defendants. The suit says the officials engaged in “intentional discrimination” when they removed the imams from the Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight in November 2006.

In its Dec. 20 response, the commission said: “MAC police officers took reasonable action in good faith upon reports of suspicious behavior.”

US Airways filed its response Dec. 26 in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota and denied more than 200 complaints levied by the imams. US Airways “denies that it engaged in any unlawful discrimination or violated any federal or state law,” the airline stated.

The airline is demanding that the imams provide “strict proof” on 97 of its claims to be decided by a jury.

The lawsuit was filed by Ahmed Shqeirat, Mohamed Ibrahim, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Marwan Sadeddin. The men were returning home from the North American Imams Federation conference on Nov. 20, 2006.

Passengers and the flight crew said the men were disruptive and did not take their assigned seats. Some of the men asked for seat-belt extensions that they did not need. According to passengers, the men criticized the war in Iraq and President Bush and talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The airline says John Wood was in charge of Flight 300 on Nov. 20, 2006, and as captain was acting within the scope of his employment when he made the decision to deny transportation to the imams.

Information provided by the flight crew led the captain to suspect that the imams “may have posed a risk to the security of the flight,” the airline’s response said.

The “decision to deny transportation was based upon the legitimate, non-discriminatory business purpose of ensuring flight safety,” the airline said.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery denied motions to dismiss the suit in November, but has not ruled whether she will hear the case or assemble a jury.

The imams say that the police officers’ “acts and conducts were solely motivated by their intent to discriminate against [the imams] based on their race, color, religion, ethnicity,” and that their activities were not probable cause to assume they planned to commit a criminal act.

The airport commission says the imams were not arrested but detained by airport police and questioned by federal officials, including the FBI and Secret Service.

The imams say they were placed under arrest and “did not consent to the arrest.”

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