Image: Shoshana Hebshi
Stan Brewer
Shoshana Hebshi was held for several hours, along with two other passengers sitting in her row on the flight, and strip-searched after landing in Detroit.
By
msnbc.com
updated 9/14/2011 2:43:01 PM ET 2011-09-14T18:43:01

Shoshana Hebshi will never forget where she was on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

She and two other airline passengers were handcuffed and strip-searched after flying into Detroit on Sunday.

No charges were filed against Hebshi, a self-described "half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio," or the two men sitting next to her, who were flying in from Denver when the crew of Frontier Airlines Flight 623 alerted authorities that they were reportedly behaving suspiciously.

In a blog post titled "Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit," Hebshi, an American citizen, told her tale of temporary detainment, which she had begun to share with Twitter followers in real-time — until handcuffs were placed on her wrists.

Hebshi, a writer and editor and mother of twin sons, didn't know the other two passengers in Row 12. They were Indian men, she wrote. And they didn't know each other. But they got a lot closer when they were all crammed into the back of a squad car.

What happened, according to Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuk, begins with a bathroom.

"One of the males, who was not feeling well, got up to use the restroom during the flight. The other male got up at approximately the same time to use the restroom. The female remained seated in her row," the FBI said in a statement.

Crews reported the men sitting next to Hebshi were spending "an extraordinarily long time" in the plane's lavatory, Kowalchuk said.

Amid heightened security fears on the tenth anniversary of the 2001 attacks, no one was taking chances.

Authorities were notified, Kowalchuk told msnbc.com, and F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane as it landed in Detroit. The captain hadn't requested the F-16s, Kowalchuk said on Wednesday, and didn't even know they were shadowing him until after they landed. After landing, his plane was directed to park in a remote part of the airport, and await authorities.

Hebshi did not return emails from msnbc.com, and had taken down contact information on her blog Tuesday. The names of the other passengers detained on Sunday have not been released. But Hebshi recalled the incident in great detail on her blog; the FBI did not comment on the specifics of the detainment.

  • After the plane landed, far from any terminals, the captain told everyone to remain in their seats or "there would be consequences," Hebshi wrote. A group of officers had gathered outside.
Image: Tweet from Hebshi
Twitter
Hebshi tweeted from the plane before officers arrested her, instructing her to not bring her phone.
  • "A little concerned about this situation. Plane moved away from terminal surrounded by cops. Crew is mum. Passengers can't get up," she tweeted at the time.
  • Still unaware that she and her seatmates were the ones police were coming for, Hebshi's concerns at that point were more mundane. "We had been waiting on the plane for a half hour. I had to pee. I wanted to get home and see my family. And I wanted someone to tell us what was going on," she wrote.
  • "Before I knew it, about 10 cops, some in what looked like military fatigues, were running toward the plane carrying the biggest machine guns I have ever seen."

Plane is stormed
Hebshi sent one more tweet about armed officers as they stormed the plane.

They stopped at Hebshi's row, yelling at the three passengers to get up. Hebshi asked if she could bring her phone; one of the officers told her she couldn't as he yanked her out of her seat.

"What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers!" she quipped in her blog post.

Kowalchuk said on Wednesday the Frontier crew watched in surprise as authorities arrested not just the two men who they had expressed concerns about, but Hebshi, too.

"The decision to detain Ms. Hebshi was made by the authorities who boarded the aircraft," Frontier spokesman Kowalchuk said. "In fact, the crew members were as shocked as the passengers when the armed officers boarded the plane; they had to respond to the orders of the law enforcement officers just as the passengers did."

The three in Row 12 were handcuffed and asked if they had any explosives on them, and then put in the back of a squad car next to the plane.

"The Indian man who had sat next to me on the plane was already in the backseat. I turned to him, shocked, and asked him if he knew what was going on," Hebshi wrote. "I asked him if he knew the other man that had been in our row, and he said he had just met him. I said, it’s because of what we look like. They’re doing this because of what we look like. And I couldn’t believe that I was being arrested and taken away."

Locked up and strip-searched
Meanwhile, the other 113 passengers on board were bused from the tarmac, some to nearby police headquarters for questioning, and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to inspect luggage from the plane, a passenger told The Associated Press. Nothing suspicious was found.

Hebshi and her seatmates' next stop would be holding cells at the airport police station. Police interviewed them one at a time, according to her post.

"I heard the officers discuss my impending strip search. They needed to bring in a female officer. At least they were following protocol, or something to that nature. Still, could this really be happening?" she wrote.

Muslim American travelers say they are still carrying 9-11 baggage

Hours later, after being strip-searched and interrogated by the FBI and Homeland Security, Hebshi was allowed to leave.

An agent thanked her for being cooperative, she wrote. "'It's 9/11 and people are seeing ghosts. They are seeing things that aren't there.' He said they had to act on a report of suspicious behavior, and this is what the reaction looks like. He said there had been 50 other similar incidents across the country that day."

Among the other incidents: An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles also reported a security threat Sunday, and was shadowed by F-16s "out of an abundance of caution," the FBI said in a statement; and in Dallas, a rented moving truck parked at a curb at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport driven by a crew member of the Discovery Channel show "Sons of Guns" also caused a scare. Investigators were suspicious because the driver said, "I got a couple of guns," but FBI said he was just waiting for a co-worker.

As for Hebshi, she wrote that she won't be flying again on Sept. 11.

"I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance," she wrote. "I believe in national security, but I also believe in peace and justice. I believe in tolerance, acceptance and trying — as hard as it may be — not to judge a person by the color of their skin or the way they dress."

According to a Washington Post interview, Hebshi said she's been overwhelmed by the response to her blog, and that despite what happened, she's glad the incident has started a conversation.

Frontier spokesman Kowalchuk told msnbc.com that heightened security concerns on the Sept. 11 anniversary could have played a part in the way Hebshi and the two others were treated once they were detained.

"The heightened security of the day and the fact that there had been at least one other similar event on Sunday could have been factors in the way authorities responded. It was not a factor in the way the Frontier crew responded," he said. "They saw behavior that concerned them and acted appropriately. What happened after that was determined by the responding authorities. Our duty and that of our flight crews is to ensure the safety of our passengers and we would never interfere with the authorities as they work to do the same."

Calls from msnbc.com to the FBI in Detroit were not returned.

Read Shoshana Hebshi's full blog post here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: ‘Naked’ scanners may soon be out; one woman’s ordeal

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Naked’ scanners may soon be out; one woman’s ordeal

    >>> good evening. there is evidence tonight that ten years after terrorists used our airplanes to crash into our buildings on an awful day that changed the aviation business forever, the federal government is getting more of a handle on a more consumer-friendly approach to airport security . the ritual of shoe removal, body scans that look more like dirty pictures and, in some cases, intrusive pat-downs is now part of life for those of us who fly but over the last few days the evidence is mounting that we may all soon face less hassle, maybe even better security prior to boarding. nbc's pete williams is at national airport in washington . start us off tonight, pete . good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening and welcome to the security announcement. the obama administration says it's moving quickly to deploy new technology at airports that use the full body scanners where they produce a less explicit image, but house republicans say it's not doing that quickly enough. from the beginning, full body scanners have been controversial. the original machines created such a detailed image some called it a virtual strip search . now the tsa is deploying the latest version that uses an entirely different system. no explicit images, just an outline to show where screeners should pay attention. of the 500 machines now in use at 78 airports nationwide, tsa says about half will use the new technology within the next few months. the tsa bought more all with the advanced outline system. but members of a house homeland security subcommittee approved a measure today that would speed that up, requiring all the scanners to be upgraded within 90 days if the full congress approves.

    >> it's giving dignity back to people who have to go through scanners without sacrificing any type of security.

    >> reporter: on another security issue, a big concern for parents, the homeland security secretary said children under 12 will no longer have to take off their shoes for screening and will be patted down less often.

    >> we hope over the coming weeks and months to begin rolling that out. it does require additional training of all of the thousands of tsa officers, and that's under way.

    >> reporter: a different travel nightmare for a woman caught up in heightened security over the 9/11 security. passenger and crew jitters led to fighter jets escorting a frontier airlines flight to detroit after two men seated in the same row were seen making frequent long visits to the laboratory. shoshana hebshi of ohio, seated in the same row as the men, said she and the men were hustled off the plane. she writes the local authorities strip searched her at the airport. i feel violated, humiliated and sure i was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance. tonight the detroit airport said it regrets that the actions of the police were necessary, but it says they acted appropriately given how quickly things were unfolding and that the police treated everyone with respect. brian?

    >> pete , while we have you, i know that there was an incident at washington 's other airport, dulles today.

    >> reporter: there was. there was a plane that was taxiing on takeoff. a flight from here in washington to san francisco . and the pilot thought there was a fire in one of the engines. he stopped the plane on the tarmac and all the passengers had to deploy on chutes. one of them was supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg and the court tells me today she jumped down the slides, at age 78, like everybody else .

    >> just like everybody else . pete williams at national airport in washington tonight starting us off. pete , thanks.

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