Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Saturday, 3 January 2009

Muslims taken off jet for remarks


Muslim passenger on what caused the confusion

Nine Muslims were ordered off a US domestic flight after passengers heard one of them make what they thought were suspicious remarks.

Shortly after boarding the New Year's Day AirTran flight from Washington DC to Florida the Muslims were led off the plane by federal air marshals.

The group, eight of them US citizens, were later cleared for travel and have received an apology from AirTran.

One of them said he felt they had been forced off because of their appearance.

The men had beards and the women wore traditional Muslim headscarves.

We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security it did

Atif Irfan, a lawyer from Virginia was travelling to a religious retreat in Florida with his wife, his brother and his brother's family, including three children, aged seven, four and two, the Associated Press reported.

They were joined by his brother's sister-in-law and a family friend.

Mr Irfan said when he boarded Thursday's flight, he mentioned something to his wife and sister-in-law about having to sit in the back.

"My wife and I are generally very careful about what we say when we step on the plane," he said, adding that they have received suspicious looks in the past.

"We're used to this sort of thing - but obviously not to this extent."

Forced to rebook

Shortly after taking their seats, they were approached by federal air marshals and taken off the plane for questioning, Irfan said.

Federal officials ordered the rest of the passengers from the plane and re-screened them before allowing the flight to depart about two hours behind schedule.

Mr Irfan said after his group was cleared by officials to travel, AirTran refused to put them on another flight and they were forced to rebook with another airline.

An Airtran statement said "we apologise to all of the passengers - to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight,".

"We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security it did," it added, but said "the steps taken were necessary."

Airtran said it would reimburse the Muslims for the replacement tickets and has offered to take them back to Washington for free.

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