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Discrimination case against airline settled

Six imams taken off a 2006 US Airways flight after passengers reported what they considered suspicious behavior have settled their discrimination lawsuit.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Six imams taken off a 2006 US Airways flight after passengers reported what they considered suspicious behavior have settled their discrimination lawsuit, saying they considered it acknowledgment that their removal was a mistake.

Neither the imams nor attorneys in the case would discuss the terms of the tentative settlement, which was announced Tuesday and requires approval from a federal judge, but it includes an unspecified sum of money.

Marwan Sadeddin, of Phoenix, said the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He did not point the finger at either US Airways or local authorities.

"It's fine for all parties. It's been solved. ... There is no need for a trial," Sadeddin said.

"We reached our goal," said Omar Shahin, of Phoenix, another of the imams and the chairman of the North American Imams Federation.

The tentative settlement was reached during a conference Monday in St. Paul with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan. A one-page court form filed Tuesday said the meeting lasted seven hours and 20 minutes, and that the terms were confidential. It gave few other details.

"We're still trying to finalize the details," said Omar Mohammedi, an attorney for the imams. He said the settlement still requires approval from U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery. He estimated that might take two weeks or so.

None of the parties admitted wrongdoing under the settlement, said Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which runs the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and its police department.

An attorney for US Airways Group Inc., Michael Lindberg, declined to comment.

Authorities removed the Muslim prayer leaders from the Phoenix-bound flight in November 2006 while they were returning home from a conference of the North American Imams Federation in Minneapolis. Some passengers became alarmed after the clerics said their evening prayers in Arabic in the airport concourse before boarding the plane, and they told authorities some of the men made critical comments about the Iraq war while aboard.

The imams were handcuffed and questioned for several hours before they were released. They ultimately returned home via another airline.

Their lawsuit named Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways, the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the airport police officers and an FBI agent who were involved in the case.

The airports commission issued a statement saying its insurance company had exercised its right to take control of the defense and settle the case. It didn't give the terms, but Hogan confirmed the settlement includes money. He wouldn't say how much, but said the commission's deductible under its liability insurance policy is $50,000.

"Law enforcement officials did what they believed was appropriate to ensure the safety of travelers based on the information available at the time," the commission's general counsel, Tom Anderson, said in a statement. "We will continue to be vigilant in maintaining the security of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the safety of travelers who use it."

A spokesman for US Airways did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, nor did the U.S. attorney's office, which represents the FBI agent named in the lawsuit.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations hailed the settlement.

"The settlement of this case is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of 'flying while Muslim' in the post-9/11 era," the group's national executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement.

A third imam, Ahmad Shqeirat, of Phoenix, said the settlement reflects the need to balance security with civil liberties.

"Justice has prevailed," Shqeirat said. "I think it's a victory for the whole justice system in this country."

Shahin said four of the six imams are U.S. citizens, while another is a long-term U.S. resident, and the sixth returned home to Egypt after a one-year mission in Bakersfield, Calif. He said they love living in peace and freedom in America and will do whatever it takes to keep it safe from terrorism. And the imam said he believes the settlement proves they were right when they decided to move to the U.S.

"This case sends a strong message to everybody," Shahin said. "And at the same time we still encourage everyone to report any suspicious activity. But we should handle it in a very professional way. We should not humiliate anybody, we should not underestimate anybody, we should not do wrong to anybody."