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Arab-speaking student removed from flight: 'I couldn’t do anything except to — honestly — to cry'




Khairuldeen Makhzoomi works in his office in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, April 18, 2016. A University of California, Berkeley student who came to the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee says he was unfairly removed from a flight at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this month because a fellow passenger was alarmed by an innocent conversation he was having in Arabic. Southwest Airlines said in a statement Sunday that the passenger, Makhzoomi, was taken off the April 9, 2016, flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, California, for questioning and the plane took off while that was happening. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi works in his office in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, April 18, 2016. A University of California, Berkeley student who came to the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee says he was unfairly removed from a flight at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this month because a fellow passenger was alarmed by an innocent conversation he was having in Arabic. Southwest Airlines said in a statement Sunday that the passenger, Makhzoomi, was taken off the April 9, 2016, flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, California, for questioning and the plane took off while that was happening. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
Haven Daley/AP

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UC Berkeley student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was escorted off his flight to Oakland earlier this month, after a female passenger reported him for speaking Arabic on the phone before takeoff.  

Makhzoomi hails from Iraq and was talking to his uncle who still lives there.

Once he was off, an airline staff member asked Makhzoomi why he was speaking Arabic on the plane. He soon found himself in front of FBI agents.

KPCC listeners shared on facebook how they think the situation should have been handled:

https://www.facebook.com/kpcc/posts/10153521980933016?comment_id=10153522683563016&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R8%22%7D

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi joined Take Two to share more details from the incident.

What was going on in your mind in terms of striking a balance between standing up for yourself, but not getting yourself into trouble?

“Under Saddam Hussein we always [kept our mouths shut.] And it’s time not to do that here because I know that here our rights [are respected] by this country. When I said ‘this is what Islamophobia got this country into,’ [it was because] I felt that somehow I was oppressed. First, they pulled me out of the plane; then they didn’t allow me to go back. They got my bag. They questioned me as if I had a second bag on the plane, until the moment when they started to search me in front of everyone and asking me if I had a knife that I might want to [cut the police officer with] … It felt very strange, but I couldn’t do anything except to — honestly — to cry … There was nothing else to do. I couldn’t do anything.”

Eventually, the FBI was brought in. You were released, but at that point, your airplane had left … What did the representatives at Southwest Airlines [say to you] after they determined that you were not in fact a threat?

 

“Nothing. They refunded my ticket. The FBI agent advised me to apologize, and I told her ‘I’m sorry, my dignity comes first.’”

Apologize for what? Do you know?

“For what I have done.”

What did they say you did?

“They told me that — you know — next time you don’t need to speak on your phone. Just close your phone and just stay there. You don’t need to speak. Just stay there and buckle your seat … And they advised me to put this behind me and to apologize.”

How are you feeling about this country at this point, given everything that you’ve been through?

I’m not going to give up. I’m going to fight. I’m going to fight the fight, I am going to graduate, I am going to stay, and I’m going to graduate and get my masters degree from here. I’m not going to let [a few ignorant people] change this country — to change the face of this country — because this is not America … “

Press the blue play button to hear the full interview.

This post has been updated.