- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A tentative settlement has been reached in the lawsuit against US Airways Group Inc. by a group of Muslim imams who were kicked off a Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight for reportedly behaving in a suspicious manner before the plane took off.

The imams’ attorney filed a form Monday with the U.S. District Court of Minnesota saying a settlement had been reached, which is likely to include some monetary compensation, though the details remained in dispute Tuesday with both sides claiming vindication.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has supported the imams since the Nov. 20, 2006, incident, hailed the agreement as a victory.

“The settlement of this case is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of flying while Muslim in the post-9/11 era,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR national executive director. “We thank all those who supported the imams through the lengthy and difficult legal process.”

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the the Metropolitan Airport Commission in Minneapolis, which was also sued by the imams, said the settlement is still in the concept stage and must be approved by the court.

“Essentially, there is no admission of guilt by any party, but a desire to move on,” Mr. Hogan said.

However, he said, the award to the imams from the airport commission would be less than the deductible under the commission’s liability insurance, which is $50,000.

“The bottom line from our standpoint is we still want people to be vigilant and to report any activity they believe are suspicious so that we can follow up; this settlement in no way changes that,” Mr. Hogan said.

Valerie Wunder, spokeswoman for US Airways, said her company was not giving out details of the settlement, but confirmed that an agreement has been reached.

The imams — Ahmed Shqeirat, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Marwan Sadeddin of Arizona, and Mohamed Ibrahim of California — were removed from Flight 300 and questioned by airport police, as well as the FBI and Secret Service, before they left Minneapolis, where they were attending the North American Imams Federation.

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 they did not need. According to passengers, the men criticized the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush and talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The imams said they were conducting prayers before the flight and needed the seat-belt extensions. They have denied causing any disruption in the airport or aboard the plane.

The imams were detained for several hours and missed their flight, and when they tried to book a later flight on US Airways, they were denied service.

In their lawsuit, the imams originally named the passengers or “John Does” as defendants for complaining to security about the Muslim scholars. The move led Congress to pass a bill, which Mr. Bush signed, that protects from lawsuits ordinary citizens who report suspicious behavior to law enforcement.

However, Judge Ann Montgomery determined in preliminary hearings in this lawsuit that the “John Doe” law did not grant immunity to law enforcement officers also named in the lawsuit.

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