26-year-old UC Berkeley student removed from Southwest flight for speaking in Arabic

LOS ANGELES (KUSI) — A 26-year-old UC California Berkeley student was removed from a Southwest flight and questioned by the FBI after passengers were alarmed when he started speaking in Arabic on the phone to his uncle.

According to CNN, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was on a Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Oakland the day after he had attended a conference where he met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

After boarding the flight, Makhzoomi made a phone call to his uncle who lives in Baghdad. 

"I just called him and talked to him about it and everything, and he told me (to) call him when I get to Oakland, and I said, ‘insha’Allah insha’Allah (God willing), I will call you when I arrive.’ And during the conversation a lady was staring at me," Makhzoomi said in an interview with CNN.

Makhzoomi said he thought the woman next to him was annoyed that he’d been talking on the phone too loud, but before he knew it, police were boarding the plane, ordering him to get off.

"The guy who came and pulled me from the plane, he took me to the jet bridge, I believe he worked with Southwest and I must say he was aggressive in the way he treated me. He was not very nice. He tried to speak to me in Arabic, but I couldn’t understand his Arabic, so I asked him to speak to me in English," Makhzoomi said. "I felt oppressed. I was afraid. He said, ‘You seem that you were having a serious conversation on the phone. Who were you talking to?’ "

Makhzoomi told the man he had been telling his uncle about the event he attended the night before. Then dogs were brought in to sniff his bag then someone else searched him at the gate and took his wallet.

According to CNN, one of the agents asked Makhzoomi, "You need to be very honest with us with what you said about the martyrs. Tell us everything you know about the martyrs.’

"The moment that she said that, I told her I never said that word, I only said insha’Allah."

According to CNN, Southwest declined to comment on the incident, but they did release the following statement:

"Prior to the departure of Flight 4620, our crew made the decision to investigate a report of potentially threatening comments overheard onboard our aircraft. A group of our employees including the flight crew made the decision to review the situation. We understand local law enforcement also spoke with that passenger as the aircraft departed the gate. To respect the privacy of those involved, we will not publicly share any further specifics of the event. We prefer to communicate directly with our customers to address concerns and feedback regarding their travel experience."

According to CNN, Makhzoomi hasn’t received an apology from the airline.

"All I want is an apology today," Makhzoomi said. "We as a people, Iraqi, American, Iranian, we share one thing in common, and that is our dignity. If someone tries to take that away from us, we should fight but not with aggression, with knowledge and education. One must stand for his principle."

Categories: Local San Diego News