Muslim Woman Removed from SJ Flight

By R. Stickney
|  Thursday, Oct 6, 2011  |  Updated 7:33 AM PDT
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Irum Abassi went through Lindbergh Field's typical security measures before her flight including a secondary inspection and was cleared. But when a flight attendant alleged that she heard Abassi say

Irum Abassi went through Lindbergh Field's typical security measures before her flight including a secondary inspection and was cleared. But when a flight attendant alleged that she heard Abassi say "it's a go" into her cell phone just before takeoff, the flight crew called TSA agents and successfully removed her from the plane.

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Irum Abbasi of San Diego was at the airport Sunday heading to San Jose to finish some research for her Masters degree when something she said on her cell phone apparently scared a Southwest flight attendant.

Abbasi, who was wearing head scarf, said, "I've got to go” but the flight attendant thought she said "It's a go."

Soon after, Abbasi was told by crewmembers that she could not fly to San Jose and was quickly escorted off the plane by TSA agents. KTVU reported that Abbasi's  headscarf was patted down by agents after she was removed from the plane.

The San Diego State University graduate student is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country for 10 years. She is finishing her masters in psychology at San Jose State and regularly makes the trip from San Diego to the Bay Area because she takes care of children during the week.

On Wednesday. Abbasi along with members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) shared her story. They believe it is an example of hostility that has surfaced because of hearings called by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R) NY. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee launched controversial hearings last week on how to combat homegrown terrorism and Muslim extremism in America.

“Two Southwest agents apologized and told me the captain has the final say and they don’t feel comfortable with you on the flight,” Abbasi said Wednesday.

Even though TSA agents removed Abbasi from the plane, they did not give her further security scrutiny said Edgar Hopida, spokesperson for CAIR.

They didn’t pat her down or take her to a room to be interrogated he said. Agents instead escorted her to the Southwest Air ticket counter to get another flight.

“I was in tears,” said Abbasi.

She handed her purse and phone for inspection but she said security didn't even touch it.

“They said 'We know you're clear but we cannot let you go on this flight because they are not willing to accept you,'” she said.

She said she often wears a headscarf and has never been treated in this manner.

“My heart is in tears that American is moving in a wrong direction,” said Hanif Mohebi, Executive Director of CAIR who believes cases like this are a direct result of the Congressional hearings.

CAIR acknowledged the verbal apology given to Abbasi on Sunday but wants the airline to investigate further.

“This is the kind of thing that we’re concerned about,” said Hopida. “Was it that suspicious to be removed from a plane simply for being Muslim and having a headscarf on?”

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