Yesterday I spoke with a passenger on that flight, who asked that she be only identified as “Pauline.” A copy of airport police report, which I also obtained, supports Pauline’s account – and includes shocking revelations of its own. In addition, U.S. Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader also confirmed much of what Pauline revealed…..
The passenger, who asked that she only be identified as “Pauline,” said she is afraid to give her full name or hometown. She is spending the night at “another location” because she does not feel safe at home. She credits reports that one imam is apparently linked to Hamas. “It is scary because these men could be dangerous.”
Pauline said she never wanted media attention. She wrote an email to U.S. Airways and cc:ed her daughter, who unexpectedly emailed it to her friends. As the letter took on an internet life of its own, it made its way to the inbox of a retired CNN executive producer. Then, to her dismay, the feeding frenzy began.
Pauline revealed to Pajamas Media that the six imams were doing things far more suspicious than praying – an Arabic-speaking passenger heard them repeatedly invoke “bin Laden,” and “terrorism,” a gate attendant told the captain that she did not want to fly with them, and that bomb-sniffing dogs were brought aboard. Other Muslim passengers were left undisturbed and later joined in a round of applause for the U.S. Airways crew. “It wasn’t that they were Muslim. It was all of the suspicious things they did,” Pauline said.
Here is her story, along with corroborating quotes from the U.S. Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader and the official report, another Pajamas Media exclusive.
Sitting in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Airport Gate C9, she noticed one of the imams immediately. “He was pacing nervously, talking in Arabic,” she said.
She quickly noticed the others. “They didn’t look like holy men to me. They looked like guys heading out of town for a Vikings game.”
Pauline said she did not see or hear the imams pray at the gate (she was at dinner in a nearby airport eatery), but heard about the pre-flight prayers from other passengers hours later.
As the plane boarded, she said, no one refused to fly. The public prayers and Arabic phone call did not trigger any alarms – so much for the p.c. allegations that people were disturbed by Muslim prayers.
But a note from a passenger about suspicious movements of the imams got the crew’s attention. A copy of the passenger’s note appears in the police report.
To Pauline everything seemed normal. Then the captain – in classic laconic pilot-style – announced there had been a “mix up in our paperwork” and that the flight would be delayed.
In reality, the air crew was waiting for the FBI and local police to arrive.
Ninety minutes after the flight’s scheduled 5:15 p.m. departure, the captain announced yet another delay. Still, Pauline said, there was no sense of alarm.
Still, it seemed like just another annoying development, typical when flying the friendly skies.
The situation in cockpit was far more intense, according to a U.S. Airways spokeswoman and police reports.
Contrary to press accounts that a single note from a passenger triggered the imams’ removal, Captain John Howard Wood was weighing multiple factors – factors that have largely been ignored by the press.
Another passenger, not the note writer, was an Arabic speaker sitting 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. They were invoking “bin Laden” and condemning America for “killing Saddam,” according to police reports.
Meanwhile an imam seated in first class asked for a seat-belt extension, even though according to both an on-duty flight attendant and another deadheading flight attendant, he looked too thin to need one. Hours later, when the passengers were being evacuated, the seat-belt extension was found on the floor near the imam’s seat, police reports confirm. The U.S. Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader said she did not dispute the report, but said the airline’s internal investigation cannot yet account for the seat-belt extension request or its subsequent use.
A seat-belt extension can easily be used as a weapon, by wrapping the open-end of the belt around your fist and swinging the heavy metal buckle.
Still, it seemed like just another annoying development, typical when flying the friendly skies. Days after the incident, the imam would claim that the steward helped him attach the device. Pauline said he is lying. Hours later, when the police was being evacuated, the steward asked Pauline to hand him the seat-belt extension, which the imam did not attach, but placed on the floor. “I know he is lying,” Pauline said, “I had it [seat belt extension] in my hand.”
A passenger in the third row of first class, Pauline said, told a member of the crew: “I don’t have a good feeling about this guy,” about the imam who wanted the seat-belt extension.
A married couple one row behind first-class, tried to strike up a conversation with the imam seated near them. He refused to talk or even look at the woman in the eye, according to Pauline. Instead, he stood up and moved to join the other imams in the back of the plane. Why would he leave the luxury end of the aircraft? Pauline wondered. The account of the married couple does not appear in the police report.
Finally, a gate attendant told the captain she thought the imams were acting suspiciously, according to police reports.
So the captain apparently made his decision to delay the flight based on many complaints, not one. And he consulted a federal air marshal, a U.S. Airways ground security coordinator and the airline’s security office in Phoenix. All thought the imams were acting suspiciously, Rader told me.
Other factors were also considered: 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, two in the middle, and two back in the economy section. Pauline’s account is confirmed by the police report. The airline spokeswoman added that some seemed to be sitting in seats not assigned to them.
One thing that no one seemed to consider at the time, perhaps due to lack of familiarity with Islamic practice, is that the men prayed both at the gate and on the plane. Observant Muslims pray only once at sundown, not twice.
“It was almost as if they were intentionally trying to get kicked off the flight,” Pauline said.
A lone plain clothes FBI agent boarded the plane and briefly spoke to the imams. Later, uniformed police escorted them off.
Some press reports said the men were led off in handcuffs, which Pauline disputes. “I saw them. They were not handcuffed.”
Later, each imam was individually brought back on the aircraft to reclaim his belongings. They were still not handcuffed. They may have been handcuffed later.
At this point, the passengers became alarmed. “How do we know they got all their stuff off?” Pauline heard one man ask.
While the imams were soon released, Pauline is fuming: “We are the victims of these people. They need to be more sensitive to us. They were totally insensitive to us and then accused us of being insensitive to them. I mean, we were a lot more inconvenienced than them.”
The plane was delayed for some three and one-half hours.
Bomb-sniffing dogs were used to sweep the plane and every passenger was re-screened, the airline spokeswoman confirmed. Another detail omitted from press reports.
The reaction of the remaining passengers has also gone unreported. “We applauded and cheered for the crew,” she said.
“I think it was either a foiled attempt to take over the plane or it was a publicity stunt to accuse us of being insensitive,” Pauline said. “It had to be to intimidate U.S. Airways to ease up on security.”
So far, U.S. Airways refuses to be intimidated, even though the feds have launched an investigation. “We are absolutely backing this crew,” Rader said.
Tucked away in the police report is this little gem: one of the imams had complained to a passenger that some nations did not follow shariah law and his job in Bakersfield, Calif. was a cover for “representing Muslims here in the U.S.”
So what are the imams really up to? Something more than praying it seems.