Groups speak out against racial profiling at airports

WASHINGTON – Imams, ministers and a rabbi staged a “pray-in” demonstration yesterday at Reagan Washington National Airport and asked an apology from US Airways for barring six Muslims from a Minneapolis to Phoenix flight last week.

The religious leaders called for an end to racial profiling, saying it was unacceptable in America.

Imam Omar Shahin, one of the six imams detained last Monday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, said they hadn’t done anything suspicious.

The imams, who were returning from a religious conference, had prayed on their prayer rugs in the airport before the flight. After they boarded the flight, a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant. The men were taken off the airplane, handcuffed and questioned.

“It was the worst moment in my life,” Shahin said.

US Airways Group Inc. spokeswoman Andrea Rader said prayer was never the issue. She said the passenger overheard anti-U.S. statements and the men got up and moved around the airplane.

“We’re sorry the imams had a difficult time, but we do think the crews have to make these calls and we think they made the right one,” she said.

Yesterday, Shahin and several other Muslims prayed in Terminal A near the US Airways ticket counter. Jewish and Christian clergy also said prayers.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, four airlines accused of breaking federal anti-discrimination laws settled with the government. Transportation Department investigations found the airlines had unlawfully removed passengers because of perceived ethnic or religious backgrounds.

The Transportation Department received a complaint about the US Airways incident yesterday from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said spokesman Brian Turmail.

“We’re going to now look into the matter,” Turmail said.

The Homeland Security Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said last week that it was investigating the incident.