It's the latest example in a worrying trend: A Muslim family removed from their flight, detained, and interrogated, all because of a racist accusation from an overzealous fellow passenger.
According to Al Jazeera, the Dharas siblings—Sakina, Maryam, and Ali—were seated onboard an EasyJet flight from London to Italy when they were told by the flight crew to exit the plane. The trio was then detained on the runway tarmac and questioned by authorities, including both police and a British Security Service officer.
According to Sakina Dharas, the interrogator said that a fellow passenger claimed to have seen Arabic script on one of the siblings' phones and leaped to the conclusion that the siblings must, in some way, be aligned with the Islamic State terrorist group.
In a Facebook post, Sakina Dharas described the ordeal, writing:
Honestly at this point, my mind freezes, and Kim K crying face springs to action. 'What the hell is going on?' We begin to descend the steps, and as we do, are met with the first question, initiating this bizarre and incredulous episode. 'Do you speak English?' Mind laughter. 'We only speak English, officer. We were born and bred in England.'
If this all sounds a bit familiar, you're right. Incidents like this happen constantly.
Here are just a few of them:
- Earlier this summer, a Muslim passenger was removed from an American Airlines flight after a flight attendant announced over the airplane PA system that she'd be "watching" him.
- This spring, an Iraqi student at UC Berkley was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight when a fellow passenger heard him speaking Arabic on a cellphone.
- An Italian economics professor was kicked off his American Airlines flight in May, after his seatmate grew alarmed at his "cryptic notes"—a math equation being worked on by the Ivy League teacher.
In her note, Dharas said she and her siblings are of Indian descent, and accordingly would not even have had any text conversations in Arabic.
Maryam, the youngest of the three, discussed the incident with Middle East Eye, telling the site, "I showed the WhatsApp conversations I was having with my family and the timestamps of when the conversations took place."
“Me and my dad had been having a WhatsApp conversation about which left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn resembles in terms of policies," she added.
The trio was eventually allowed back on their flight, after being told that their entire interrogation was simply to confirm information already gathered on the family through background checks.
Speaking with Al Jazeera, Rights Watch UK director Yasmine Ahmed described the incident as "unacceptable," adding:
The government must immediately explain under what powers they acted, and how it is necessary and proportionate, on the basis of a spurious claim by a fellow passenger, to demand that three young British Muslims disembark an aircraft and be subject to questioning by an MI5 officer and told that the officer may be waiting for them on their return
EasyJet confirmed the incident to Middle East Eye, and "apologised for the inconvenience caused by the incident," while stressing that the safety of its passengers is "its highest priority."
On Facebook, Sakina ended her note by musing on the injustice of her experience.
"What kills me after all of this is when sanity washes over like a cold bucket of ice. What are my rights?," she wrote. "We would only have been allowed back on the plane if there wasn't a shred of doubt on their part, so someone must be the liar here, in which case, why were those passengers not removed for wasting police time, LYING, making false allegations and racial profiling?"