On April 6th, UC Berkeley senior and Iraqi Muslim migrant, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, was supposed to fly from Los Angeles to Oakland, get to campus and go to class. Instead, Makhzoomi was removed from Southwest Airlines flight 4260, detained by security officers, questioned by the FBI and refused service from Southwest after speaking Arabic before his flight took off.
Daily Cal On his way back to Berkeley, Makhzoomi boarded his flight to Oakland and called his uncle in Baghdad conducted in Arabic. Makhzoomi said goodbye to his uncle with the phrase “inshallah,” which translates to “if God is willing.” When Makhzoomi hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him. Once he made eye contact with her, she got up and left her seat.
“She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he said. “Then I realized what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’” Minutes later, an airport employee arrived to remove Makhzoomi from the airplane. Makhzoomi was escorted onto the passenger boarding bridge where he was met by three security officers.
He learned that the passenger thought she had heard the word “Shahid,” meaning martyr, which is associated with jihad and has been associated with terrorists. The conversation between Makhzoomi and the employee became complicated and political. The employee informed Makhzoomi that he was not allowed to return to the plane.
Then Makhzoomi heard one of the security officers radio for the FBI. “At that moment I couldn’t feel anything,” he said. “I was so afraid. I was so scared.” Makhzoomi was removed from the jet bridge and taken back to the gate where more security officers, police dogs and Southwest staff awaited him. Dozens of onlookers watched as he waited for the FBI to arrive.
In the meantime, security officers searched his bag again and continued to ask him if he had any other luggage he was keeping secret. Makhzoomi alleged that one police officer publicly searched his genital area and asked him if he was hiding a knife anywhere.
“That is when I couldn’t handle it and my eyes began to water,” he said. “The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid.
When the FBI arrived, Makhzoomi said they began questioning him about his family, the phone call he made on the plane and everything he knew about martyrdom. After the interrogation was over, an FBI agent informed Makhzoomi that Southwest would not fly him home. Makhzoomi collected his refund and left Terminal 1 to process what had happened.
Makhzoomi called Southwest on Monday and they ensured his status was clear but offered him no apology. He said he considered filing a lawsuit against Southwest but decided against it. “I don’t want money,” he said. “I don’t care about that. All I want is an apology.” (Not to worry, designated terrorist group CAIR is outside your door waiting to file a lawsuit on your behalf)
Southwest could not be reached for comment.