updated 11/1/2007 8:13:32 PM ET 2007-11-02T00:13:32

Six men of Iraqi descent who were heading home from doing training for the U.S. military sued American Airlines on Thursday, saying employees detained and publicly humiliated them after another passenger voiced suspicions.

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The men, who sued in U.S. District Court in Detroit alleging racial discrimination, say airline employees grounded their Aug. 28 flight from San Diego to Chicago and detained them, believing they were security risks.

The men, some of whom are U.S. citizens, were returning to the Detroit area after training Marines at California’s Camp Pendleton on Iraqi culture when another passenger expressed concerns to guards partly because she heard the men speaking Arabic.

After taxiing from the gate, pilots returned the plane to the terminal. The six men were segregated and detained while the airline helped more than 100 passengers find hotel rooms, according to a prepared statement from the men.

The suit was filed on behalf of David Al-Watan, Talal Cholagh, Ali Alzerej, Hassan Alzerej, Hussein Alsalih and Mohammad Al-Saedy.

“They treated me like a terrorist,” Al-Watan, 30, said in the statement. “We didn’t do anything wrong, but they made everybody scared of us.”

Flight 590’s crew returned the plane to the gate to resolve potential security problems, airline spokesman Tim Wagner said in a statement.

“All passengers disembarked the aircraft after it was determined that it would not be able to redepart because of San Diego International Airport’s 11:30 p.m. flight curfew,” Wagner said. “Several passengers were briefly interviewed by law enforcement officers. No passenger was arrested.”

The six men took flights with the airline the next morning, Wagner said.

The men worked for Defense Training Systems, a unit of International Logistics Services Corp. of Anchorage, Alaska. Their work involved teaching Marines about Iraqi culture, customs and etiquette, said their lawyer, Lawrence T. Garcia.

“These are some of the most pro-American people around,” Garcia said. “There’s no reason to suspect that these people were a threat on this airline. ... This is the face of prejudice and racism that happens today.”

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