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Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Profiling In Courage

Homeland Security: Kudos to US Airways. Risking fines and a boycott, it did the right thing this week by removing a group of Muslim men from a flight to protect its crew and passengers.

By most accounts, the six bearded men were behaving suspiciously at a time when airports were on high alert for sky terror during the holidays. "There were a number of things that gave the flight crew pause," an airline spokesman said. According to witnesses and police reports, the men:

• Made anti-American statements.

• Made a scene of praying and chanting "Allah."

• Asked for seat-belt extensions even though a flight attendant thought they didn't need them.

• Refused requests by the pilot to disembark for more screening.

Also, three of the men had only one-way tickets and no checked baggage.

Police had to forcibly remove the men from the flight, whereupon they were taken into custody. A search found no weapons or explosives, and they were released to continue on their journey.

Within hours, the men enlisted a Muslim-rights group to make a stink in the press, insisting they were merely imams returning home from an Islamic conference in Minneapolis. They say they were "harassed" because of their faith.

But were they victims or provocateurs?

All six claim to be Americans, so clearly they were aware of heightened security. Surely they knew that groups of Muslim men flying together while praying to Allah fit the modus operandi of the 9/11 hijackers and would make a pilot nervous. Throw in anti-U.S. remarks and odd demands about seat belts, and they might as well have yelled, "Bomb!"

Yet they chose to make a spectacle. Why? Turns out among those attending their conference was Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who will be the first Muslim sworn into Congress (with his hand on the Quran). Two days earlier, Ellison, an African-American convert who wants to criminalize Muslim profiling, spoke at a fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim-rights group that wasted no time condemning US Airways for "prejudice and ignorance."

CAIR wants congressional hearings to investigate other incidents of "flying while Muslim." Incoming Judiciary Chairman John Con-yers, D-Mich., has already drafted a resolution, borrowing from CAIR rhetoric, that gives Muslims special civil-rights protections.

While it's not immediately clear whether the incident was a stunt to help give the new Democratic majority cover to criminalize airport profiling, it wouldn't be the first time Muslim passengers have tried to prove "Islamophobia" — or test nerves and security.

Two years ago a dozen Syrian men caused panic aboard a Northwest Airlines flight by passing bags to each other as they used the lavatory. As the plane prepared to land, they rushed to the back and front of the plane speaking in Arabic.

Then there's the case of Muhammed al-Qudhaieen and Hamdan al-Shalawi, two Arizona college students removed from an America West flight after twice trying to open the cockpit. The FBI suspected it was a dry run for the 9/11 hijackings, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. One of the students had traveled to Afghanistan. Another became a material witness in the 9/11 investigation.

Even so, the pair filed racial-profiling suits against America West, now part of US Airways. Defending them was none other than the leader of the six imams kicked off the US Airways flight this week.

Turns out the students attended the Tucson, Ariz., mosque of Sheikh Omar Shahin, a Jordan native. Shahin has been the protesters' public face, even returning to the US Airways ticket counter at the Minneapolis airport to scold agents before the cameras.

In an Arizona Republic interview after 9/11, he acknowledged once supporting Osama bin Laden through his mosque in Tucson. FBI investigators believe bin Laden set up a base in Tucson.

Hani Hanjour, who piloted the plane that hit the Pentagon, attended the Tucson mosque along with bin Laden's onetime personal secretary, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Bin Laden's ex-logistics chief was president of the mosque before Shahin took over.

"These people don't continue to come back to Arizona because they like the sunshine or they like the state," said FBI agent Kenneth Williams. "Something was established there, and it's been there for a long time." And Shahin appears to be in the middle of it.

CAIR asserts the imams are peace-loving patriots. "It's inappropriate to treat religious leaders that way," a spokesman said.

Yeah, they all wear halos. Omar Abdul-Rahman, a blind sheikh, is serving a life term for plotting to blow up several New York landmarks. Imam Ali al-Timimi, a native Washingtonian, is also behind bars for soliciting local Muslims to kill fellow Americans. Imams in New York were recently busted for buying shoulder-fired missiles. Another in Lodi, Calif., planned an al-Qaida terror camp there.

We could go on and on. Imams or not, US Airways did right by its customers. Shahin is calling on Muslims to boycott the airline; that might actually work in its favor. US Airways has been flooded with calls from Americans saying it just became the safest airline.

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