Iraqi refugee taken off California flight

April 18, 2016
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi

Southwest Airlines escorted an Iraqi refugee off a flight in Los Angeles after another passenger became alarmed when she heard the man speaking in Arabic. Federal investigators later determined the man posed no threat, but the Iraqi-American man is accusing the airline of Islamophobia. [New York Times]

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, is a senior at University of California Berkeley. Makhzoomi lives with his mother and younger brother in Oakland. His father was an Iraqi diplomat whom Saddam Hussein jailed in Abu Ghraib prison. The dictator’s regime later killed him.

On April 6, Makhzoomi boarded a Southwest Airlines flight at LAX that was headed for Oakland. After boarding, Makhzoomi called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him that he had just heard United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon deliver a speech.

Makhzoomi told his uncle that he asked the secretary general a question about ISIS. The conversation ended with the Arabic phrase, “inshallah” or god willing.

A female passenger in a seat nearby overheard the conversation and told the flight crew she heard him making potentially threatening statements.

An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent then came to Makhzoomi’s seat and asked him why he was speaking in Arabic on the plane. Makhzoomi responded by saying, “This is what Islamophobia got this country into.”

The Southwest employee then escorted him off the plane, and Makhzoomi accused the employee of anti-Muslim bias.

Law enforcement officials searched Makhzoomi in the airport terminal in front of a crowd of onlookers, including other officers and a police dog. Three FBI agents then arrived and questioned him in a private room.

Makhzoomi said an FBI agent told him the Southwest Airlines employee said a passenger reported hearing him talk in Arabic about martyrdom, using a phrase often associated with jihadists. Makhzoomi denied the charge and returned to the terminal where the Arabic-speaking employee refunded his ticket.

The Berkeley student booked a new flight on Delta Air Lines and arrived in Oakland eight hours after he had planned. Makhzoomi said he does not plan to pursue legal action, but he wants Southwest Airlines to apologize for the ways its employees treated him.

Zahra Biloo, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there have been at least six cases of airlines pulling Muslims off flights so far this year. Southwest Airlines released a statement saying it does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind.


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35 Comments

  1. demiseofslo says:

    Hes a student at Berkeley, where does he get the “refugee” status from? This kid was looking for a reaction and he got it! If I say “bomb” anything close to that on an airplane, I’d assume I’m gonna get some attention and be taken off the plane.

    (1) 7 Total Votes - 4 up - 3 down
  2. Jorge Estrada says:

    He has to pay for his education and he is smart enough to know that someone will do the dirty work for him. Another stunt for today’s reading.

    (4) 26 Total Votes - 15 up - 11 down
    • Rambunctious says:

      It would be nice if he were paying for his own education but I’d bet the tax payer is picking up the tab……

      (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  3. Citizen says:

    Southwest Airlines say it was the CONTENT of the conversation, not that he was speaking Arabic, that he was removed. This guy made the mistake of getting on a plane where a passenger and a flight attendant both spoke Arabic.

    http://www.star-telegram.com/news/business/aviation/sky-talk-blog/article72519147.html

    (17) 25 Total Votes - 21 up - 4 down
    • Citizen says:

      Can at least one of the people who voted this down, please explain why. Should we allow people who by their actions pose a possible threat to continue on the plane. If so, should we allow the other passengers the choice of deboarding at that point. Should the pilot and flight attendants also be allowed to leave. Or do you hate Southwest Airlines and hope for a crash?

      Do you speak Arabic and have a transcript of this student’s conversation? So, you think that he was not a threat or not trying to frighten people so he could get kicked off the plane and sue the airline?

      Do you not realize that Southwest Airlines probably flies more Middle Eastern passengers, (connected with the oil industry) than most airlines–all without incident and apparently has flight attendants who speak Arabic. Or do you just want to believe that Southwest is Islamophobic because it has the word South in its name?

      Please explain.

      (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
      • CharlesInCharge says:

        More importantly, do you have a transcript? I read the article above, and it did not mention specific language used by the passenger. Therefore, all of the actions you have suggested (passengers and crew leaving) are based on the assumption that this guy said something threatening, without any evidence for it.

        It is important to have the evidence before weighing in on either side. You and the poster above have failed to take this crucial step.

        (-4) 4 Total Votes - 0 up - 4 down
  4. shelworth says:

    Maybe he was talking to that clock-kid, getting advice on how to get his 15 minutes of fame?

    (9) 23 Total Votes - 16 up - 7 down
  5. slojustice says:

    This guy knew exactly what he was doing. He’s looking for a payday.

    (19) 51 Total Votes - 35 up - 16 down

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