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Sat, Jan 05, 2008

US Airways, MSP Want Jury Trial For Imams Lawsuit

Say Passengers Who Spoke Up Are Protected From Litigation

Asserting the travelers, flight crew members, and law enforcement officers who removed six Muslim imams from a November 2006 flight were acting in the best interests of national security, officials with US Airways and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport want a jury trial in the civil rights lawsuit brought forth by the imams.

As ANN reported, the six Muslim imams, or scholars, were removed from a US Airways flight to Phoenix after passengers and crewmembers expressed concern over what they called the men's suspicious behavior -- which allegedly included asking for seatbelt extensions, although the men didn't need them, and failure to take their assigned seats.

The six men, who were returning home from an Islamic clerics conference, also criticized the war in Iraq and President Bush, and spoke about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden while in the terminal and onboard the plane, according to passenger complaints.

The Washington Times reports the airline and the Minneapolis Airports Commission also want immunity for those who stood up, and demanded the imams be removed from the flight -- citing a "John Doe" law passed by Congress last year, that protects those who report persons acting suspiciously to authorities.

A subsequent discrimination lawsuit, filed last year by the six men, was amended December 14 to include the six airport police officers who responded to the gate as defendants.

"We believe the police officers acted appropriately and that it is important that airports across the nation be able to take action when there is a reasonable belief that travelers could be threatened," said Minneapolis Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan. "In this case, there were travelers and flight crew members who raised concerns, and we worked with federal authorities who interviewed the imams.

"We believe the process worked as it should to protect the traveling public," Hogan added.

In its response to the amended suit, US Airways rebutted the over 200 complaints brought forth by the Muslims against the airline, and denied "that it engaged in any unlawful discrimination or violated any federal or state law."

The carrier also demanded the imams produce "strict proof" on 97 of those claims before a jury -- and stood behind the captain on the flight, John Wood, who asked for the imams to be removed from his plane. US Airways said Wood, who acted on information provided by the cabin crew, suspected the imams "may have posed a risk to the security of the flight," and the "decision to deny transportation was based upon the legitimate, non-discriminatory business purpose of ensuring flight safety," the airline said.

The imams assert they were placed under arrest -- which they "did not consent to" -- saying the police officers' "acts and conducts were solely motivated by their intent to discriminate against [the imams] based on their race, color, religion, ethnicity."

US District Judge Ann Montgomery has not ruled whether she will hear the case with a jury present. She denied motions to dismiss the suit in November.

FMI: www.usairways.com, www.mnd.uscourts.gov/Judges/montgomery.htm

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