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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Malaga air duo 'understand' fears
Sohail Ashraf (L) and Khurram Zeb
Mr Ashraf (L) and Mr Zeb study in Manchester
Two Asian students who were taken off a UK-bound plane over fears they were terrorists have said they do not blame the other passengers for voicing fears.

Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb, both 22, told the Daily Mirror they were stunned at being mistaken for terrorists.

"I can understand why people are so panicked. But just because we are Muslim does not mean we are terrorists," said Mr Ashraf.

The pair flew back to Manchester from Malaga on a different flight.

The Monarch Airlines service that they were due to board was delayed for several hours after last week's incident.

Following the newspaper interview, other passengers on the plane have denied their actions were racist and insisted the pair were acting suspiciously.

'Ordinary lads'

Mr Ashraf told the paper they had gone to southern Spain on a day-trip, but ended up being marched off the plane at gunpoint.

I looked around and there was a girl of about 12 looking at me, pointing and crying
Khurram Zeb

"These are nervous times and I can understand why people are so panicked," he said.

"All I would say is 'don't be paranoid, don't judge every book by its cover'.

"We might be Asian but we're just two ordinary lads who wanted a bit of fun."

He described the experience as "unnerving" and said after being questioned by police they had been "a bit hysterical".

'Bundled off'

Mr Zeb told the Mirror they "didn't twig" what was happening until he saw a young girl on the plane crying.

They kept coming back, standing very, very close to people, intimidating them
Amanda Dunleavy

"I looked around and there was a girl of about 12 looking at me, pointing and crying.

"Her parents were putting their arms around her protectively and staring at us.

"One minute we were sitting quietly, looking forward to getting home, the next we were being bundled off."

Mr Zeb said he believed the scare was sparked by an elderly woman who had been sitting next to them on the plane.

She had asked them some questions, and then got up and walked to the cockpit, he said.

His father, Zeb Khan, told the BBC his son was very upset by the incident.

Mr Khan said it was "very unfair" and he felt his son had been singled out.

Security concerns

Amanda Dunleavy from Bolton, who was on the flight, said the pair aroused suspicion because of the way they acted when they were queuing.

She said: "They queued up for a good 40 or 50 minutes and then wandered off. They kept coming back, standing very, very close to people, intimidating them.

"The minute they got on [the plane] they started going under the seats and messing.

"When people began to take notice - and one young girl was really upset, crying - they just sat there laughing."

In a statement Monarch Airlines said the captain had been "concerned about the security surrounding the two gentlemen on the aircraft".

"The decision was taken to remove them from the flight for further security checks.

"The two passengers offloaded from the flight were later cleared by airport security and rebooked to travel back to Manchester on a later flight."

Newsnight interview with Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb

Malaga passenger defends actions
22 Aug 06 |  England
Fear of the unknown
21 Aug 06 |  Magazine

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