On April 5, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi attended a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On April 6, Makhzoomi, a University of California, Berkeley senior, boarded a Southwest Airlines plane in Los Angeles, headed to Oakland so he could return to school. On the plane, he had a brief telephone conversation in Arabic with his uncle about the dinner, which he ended with the common phrase "insha'Allah" (which means "God willing"). Shortly afterward, Makhzoomi was escorted right back off the plane, where he was detained and interrogated by the FBI.
According to Makhzoomi, whose family fled Iraq in 2002 after his diplomat father was killed under Saddam Hussein's regime, a passenger was eyeing him closely as he hung up. "She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong," he said in an interview with CNN. When he made eye contact with her, she left her seat and walked away. A few minutes later, an airport employee showed up and removed Makhzoomi from the plane. He was escorted back to the boarding bridge where three security officers were waiting. "I can't believe how fast they were," he said. Well, it's nice to know they're efficient.
Makhzoomi told CNN what happened next: "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. 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?'"
The 26-year-old answered that he'd been talking to his uncle about his dinner the night before, and showed the official the video of the dinner with Ban Ki-moon. The official allegedly asked, "Why are you talking in Arabic? You know the environment is very dangerous."
Meanwhile, dogs sniffed Makhzoomi's bag, he was searched, and his wallet was taken. Makhzoomi told Raw Story that one officer publicly felt around his genital area and asked him if he was hiding a knife.
Then he was escorted away by FBI agents. Makhzoomi said one of the agents asked a question that surprised him: "You need to be very honest with us with what you said about the martyrs. Tell us everything you know about the martyrs." He told the agent that he'd never said that word, he'd only said "insha'Allah." The agent told him the woman thought he'd said "shahid," which means martyr.
Speaking to Raw Story, Makhzoomi said: "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. When I got home, I just slept for a few days."
When the questioning was over, Makhzoomi was told that Southwest would not fly him back. He did get a refund though, which was absolutely the least they could do.
Southwest Airlines issued a written statement, which read:
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.
What Southwest hasn't done, though, is apologize to Makhzoomi. He told CNN, "All I want is an apology today. 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."