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An Iraqi refugee college student interrogated by FBI after speaking Arabic on plane


A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.
Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”
“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Makhzoomi said.
That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended. The man asked, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”
Makhzoomi said he was afraid, and that the employee spoke to him “like I was an animal.”
“I said to him, ‘This is what Islamophobia got this country into,’ and that made him so angry. That is when he told me I could not go back on the plane.”
Makhzoomi says he has now been “blacklisted” by the Southwest, following the incident where he was searched in the terminal with an audience and up to six police officers watching.
He says he was questioned by the FBI on subjects including his mother, who lives with him and his younger brother in Oakland since they moved to the US in 2010.
He was also quizzed on his father, Khalid Makhzoomi, a former Iraqi diplomat who was jailed in Abu Ghraib prison by Saddam Hussein and later killed by the regime.

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