March 30, 2007

'Flying Imams' add passengers to lawsuit

We knew it would happen.

MINNEAPOLIS — Six Muslim men removed from a plane last fall after being accused of suspicious behavior are suing not only the airline but the passengers who complained _ a move some fear could discourage travelers from speaking up when they see something unusual.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed earlier this month, has so alarmed some lawyers that they are offering to defend the unnamed "John Doe" passengers free of charge. They say it is vital that the flying public be able to report suspicious behavior without fear of being dragged into court.

"When you drive up the road towards the airport, there's a big road sign that says, `Report suspicious behavior,'" said Gerry Nolting, a Minneapolis lawyer. "There's no disclaimer that adds, `But beware if you do that, you might get sued.'"

The six imams were taken off a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight on Nov. 20 while returning home from a conference of Islamic clerics in Minneapolis.

Other passengers had gotten nervous when the men were seen praying and chanting in Arabic as they waited to board. Some passengers also said that the men spoke of Saddam Hussein and cursed the United States; that they requested seat belt extenders with heavy buckles and stowed them under their seats; that they were moving about and conferring with each other during boarding; and that they sat separately in seats scattered through the cabin.

If the case against the passengers is not torpedoed by summary judgment, with all of defendant's legal fees charged to the plaintiffs, it will be a sin.

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