How the Imams Terrorized an Airliner

The Washington Times has an extensive report on the incident last week where imams returning from a conference in Minneapolis were removed from a US Airways flight and subsequently banned from the airline. It is entitled “How the imams terrorized an airliner.”

Muslim religious leaders removed from a Minneapolis flight last week exhibited behavior associated with a security probe by terrorists and were not merely engaged in prayers, according to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials.

Aren’t the police reports just a compilation of the accounts of witnesses, including security officials?

Witnesses said three of the imams were praying loudly in the concourse and repeatedly shouted “Allah” when passengers were called for boarding US Airways Flight 300 to Phoenix. “I was suspicious by the way they were praying very loud,” the gate agent told the Minneapolis Police Department.

Well, they are imams. Praying out loud is pretty much their job description, no?

Passengers and flight attendants told law-enforcement officials the imams switched from their assigned seats to a pattern associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks and also found in probes of U.S. security since the attacks — two in the front row first-class, two in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle and two in the rear of the cabin. “That would alarm me,” said a federal air marshal who asked to remain anonymous. “They now control all of the entry and exit routes to the plane.” A pilot from another airline said: “That behavior has been identified as a terrorist probe in the airline industry.”

Finally, a legitimate red flag. ( Note to WaTi editors: Use the classic inverse pyramid organizational structure until you teach your reporters to write coherent essays. This will help emphasize the material that’s actually important.)

This is followed by a few paragraphs wherein the usual suspects yammer about racial profiling and so forth. Let’s skip those, shall we?

According to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials, the imams displayed other suspicious behavior. Three of the men asked for seat-belt extenders, although two flight attendants told police the men were not oversized. One flight attendant told police she “found this unsettling, as crew knew about the six [passengers] on board and where they were sitting.” Rather than attach the extensions, the men placed the straps and buckles on the cabin floor, the flight attendant said.

This is indeed odd behavior. Some explanation as to how seatbelt extenders might be used to hijack an airliner might be useful at this stage but it was not forthcoming.

[Update: Greg Lang explains, “This is one heck of a weapon that has been overlooked. Basically the ‘heavy’ head of this is very heavy with both the latch and the belt adjuster lock thing. In a weapon sense it’s a lot like a padlock on a chain or in prison a canned item in a sock. A solid blow to the head can disable and the strap can be used to choke or restrain. I was astounded that these were [allowed for use as] carry on items.” via PowerLine and Hyscience]

The imams said they were not discussing politics and only spoke in English, but witnesses told law enforcement that the men spoke in Arabic and English, criticizing the war in Iraq and President Bush, and talking about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Something like 70 percent of the American public would be banned from flying using this test.

The imams who claimed two first-class seats said their tickets were upgraded. The gate agent told police that when the imams asked to be upgraded, they were told no such seats were available. Nevertheless, the two men were seated in first class when removed.

This could have innocent explanations, to be sure, but combined by their seating pattern happening to coincide with a classic terrorist pattern, let’s call it another red flag. Still, unless these are particularly cheap or poorly financed terrorists, one would think they’d have just gone ahead and sprung for the two first class seats outright rather than risking being denied the upgrade and/or calling attention to themselves.

A flight attendant said one of the men made two trips to the rear of the plane to talk to the imam during boarding, and again when the flight was delayed because of their behavior. Aviation officials, including air marshals and pilots, said these actions alone would not warrant a second look, but the combination is suspicious.

“That’s like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. You just can’t do that anymore,” said Robert MacLean, a former air marshal. “They should have been denied boarding and been investigated,” Mr. MacLean said. “It looks like they are trying to create public sympathy or maybe setting someone up for a lawsuit.”

The pilot with another airline who talked to The Washington Times on condition of anonymity, said he would have made the same call as the US Airways pilot. “If any group of passengers is commingling in the terminal and didn’t sit in their assigned seats or with each other, I would stop everything and investigate until they could provide me with a reason they did not sit in their assigned seats.”

It could simply be that these fellows don’t fly very often. One presumes flight attendants told them to sit down in their proper seats and they refused?


Michelle Malkin discusses the case on O’Reilly (video).

Ed Driscoll wonders why the imams’ suspicious behavior is being so underreported in the Minneapolis press.

FILED UNDER: Policing, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent G. Budge says:

    If I had to guess, I’d guess the imams were engaging in deliberate provocation.

    Mere unfamiliarity with flying doesn’t explain the seating pattern or the request for seat belt extenders that were not used to extend seat belts.

    I say deliberate provocation, rather than a foiled hijacking, because loudly praying in Arabic ain’t exactly a subtle way for a jihadist to start off a hijacking.

    But perhaps there’s an explanation I’m missing.

  2. Christopher says:

    Those poor Muslims! The way they had to suffer through all this. I feel so bad for them. NOT!!!

  3. Rodney Dill says:

    If I had to guess, I’d guess the imams were engaging in deliberate provocation.

    Or more seriously ‘terrorist probing.’ Though this would be very hard to prove as it wouldn’t involve a direct hijacking attempt. Determining what sort of behavior would be allowed vs. raising suspicions and subsequent actions would be very useful information for future hijacking attempts. I believe this is at least as likely, if not more likely, than deliberate provocation.

  4. madmatt says:

    so these crafty muslims are preparing weapons and planning to hijack a plane all while badmouthing the administration and making a spectacle of themselves…so which is it crafty or idiots? I would go with religious people flying…and an excessively paranoid populace due to years of hysterical fear mongering by the bushies!

  5. John Burgess says:

    Their actions seemed intentionally provocative to me, too. I’ve blogged this Wash Times article here, and the original report here.

    These guys weren’t foreigners; they were Americans who have been living in the country since 9/11. I cannot believe they were so stupid as to not realize that their behavior was going to attract unfavorable attention. Thus, it was designed to attract unfavorable attention and the cloak of ‘victim of profiling’.

    I sincerely doubt these guys have anything to do with terrorism, other than the terrorism that results from “victimism”.

  6. Tano says:

    Y’know, this doesnt pass the smell test for me. Seems like a lot of CYA stories, when what most likely happened is that some morons got scared about muslim men traveling together.

    Funny how the very people who seem to make it their life’s calling to trash the MSM on a daily basis, just suck up every detail of this story as if it were absolutely true. Seat-belt extenders to hijack a plane. Give me an effin break!

    And from the frickin’ Moonie Times, no less! Get a grip, people…

  7. Steven Plunk says:

    I don’t understand why anyone would defend these people. Muslim, non-Muslim it doesn’t matter, they acted like jerks and got what they deserved.

    This is not rednecks over reacting, it’s not a result of fear mongering, it is supposedly serious people acting like punks where they knew they shouldn’t.

    It’s no wonder mainstream America doesn’t trust the Muslim community if the leadership acts like this.

  8. LJD says:

    Changing your seats, chanting Allah, acting suspiciously… post 9/11 is a great way to get tossed off a flight. No apologies needed.

    Unless of course the (presumably white christian) flight attendants, gate agent, passengers, were all engaged in a conspiracy to discredit these unknowing and honorable Imams.

  9. John Burgess says:

    The story didn’t break in the Wash Times; it came out of MN papers and TV.

    I do think there’s a lot of useless ‘profiling’ on the part of publics that haven’t a clue what represents ‘reasonable behavior’ on the part of Muslims. Muslims tend to pray out loud, they tend to pray in Arabic, they tend to pray at takeoffs and landings. They can ‘look funny’.

    This story, though, isn’t like most of the others about profiling errors. These guys were behaving far stranger than those in the Jacob’s stories of a year or so ago. And they were not traveling in the US for the first time, either.

  10. geezer says:

    I’m thinking it’s a lot easier to dissect this while sitting comfortably at home or at work than it would have been in an airport, then boarding a plane, and so on.

  11. floyd says:

    tano;** boys with boxcutters to hijack a plane, give me an effing break![want to see someone really thrown off the plane without public outcry? try having six eight-year old girls sing “Jesuus loves me”] now that’s a real threat!**

  12. Mark says:

    What it seems like is that people like this want to make it easier for the real hijackers by making us accept strange behavior as almost normal. So the real hijackers will slip in as Innocent peaceful Arabs. HMMMMMMMMmmmmm think about it.