The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced today that five of the six American Muslim imams recently removed from a US Airways flight in Minnesota have retained the Washington-based civil rights group as their legal counsel.Of course on the other side there is the suspicious behavior of the Imams, as outlined by Richard Miniter in The New York Post:
Airline and law enforcement officials say the imams were taken off the flight November 20th for alleged "suspicious activity." They were handcuffed and questioned for several hours by authorities before being released. CAIR, along with other civil rights organizations, has called for congressional hearings on religious and ethnic profiling at airports in response to the incident.
Since their removal from the flight, a number of charges have circulated in the media and on the Internet that the imams say are false, distorted or a misrepresentation of actual events.
- An Arabic speaker was seated near two of the imams in the plane's tail. That passenger pulled a flight attendant aside and, in a whisper, translated what the men were saying: invoking "bin Laden" and condemning America for "killing Saddam," according to police reports.
- An imam seated in first class asked for a seat-belt extender - the extra strap that obese people use because the standard belt is too short. According to both an on-duty and a deadheading flight attendant, he looked too thin to need one.
- A seat-belt extender can easily be used as a weapon - just wrap one end around your fist, and swing the heavy metal buckle.
- All six imams had boarded together, with the first-class passengers - even though only one of them had a first-class ticket. Three had one-way tickets. Between the six men, only one had checked a bag.
- And, Pauline said, they spread out - just like the 9/11 hijackers. Two sat in first class, two in the middle and two back in the economy section, police reports show. Some, according to Rader, took seats not assigned to them.
- Finally, a gate attendant told the captain she was suspicious of the imams, according to police reports.
Katherine Kersten of the Minnesota Star Tribune fleshes out the suspicious ties to terrorism:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the imams' legal representative, is an organization that "we know has ties to terrorism," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in 2003. And the Muslim American Society, which is also supporting the imams? It's the American arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Chicago Tribune, which called it "the world's most influential Islamic fundamentalist group."Kersten describes a number of the terrorist connections to ICT and to Arizona, including a precursor to the current controversy going back to 1999:
How about Omar Shahin, the imams' spokesman and also president of the North American Imams Federation? He is a native of Jordan, who says he became a U.S. citizen in 2003. From 2000 to 2003, Shahin served as president of Islamic Center of Tucson (ICT), that city's largest mosque.
The ICT is well known. The mosque has "an extensive history of terror links," according to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, who testified about terrorist financing before the Senate Banking Committee in July 2005.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Al-Qudhai'een and Hamdan al Shalawi, a fellow Saudi, were removed from an America West flight after engaging in what the flight crew considered suspicious activity. The crew asserted that Al-Qudhai'een had twice attempted to open the plane's cockpit door. After 9/11, FBI agents in Phoenix considered whether the incident had been a "dry run" for the attacks. The 9/11 Commission noted that Al Shalawi had reportedly trained in Afghan terrorist camps in November 2000, learning how to conduct "Khobar Towers"-type bombing attacks.According to IBD, Shahin was also involved in the defense of the two Saudis. He has downplayed his mosque's members' ties to terrorism and has pleaded ignorance in regards to other terrorist ties.
The America West incident attracted national attention in 1999. In 2000, the two Saudis filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the airline. "What happened to us was based on racial and religious discrimination," al Shalawi told the Arizona Republic. CAIR hired the Saudis' attorney for them, and urged a boycott of the airline. America West won the lawsuit. Al-Qudhai'een was later deported to Saudi Arabia.
So was the Flying Imams incident an instance of bigotry? Or was it part of a larger script? If so, whose script is it, and what's the final act?She writes that she is going to look into those questions on Thursday.