Imams disputes tie to Hamas 

Wahington Times 

Mr. Shahin is the spokesman for the imams who attended his federation's conference last week in Minnesota and were evicted from US Airways Flight 300 because of suspicious behavior.

The imams dispute the account of seven witnesses, including two law-enforcement

officers, that the imams shouted hostile slogans and took unassigned seats in a pattern used by terrorists.

Mr. Shahin calls the reports "exaggerations" and "false statements."     "I did everything normal, I did not do anything that is not normal in my mind." He said he and his colleagues were removed from the plane because three of the men said prayers in the concourse.    

Mr. Shahin said they did not orchestrate the event to create a lawsuit or make a public issue of profiling Muslim passengers.    

"We love US Airways, and we want to fly with them," Mr. Shahin said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations will pursue a lawsuit on the imams' behalf, Mr. Shahin said.    

Mr. Shahin says they were not led off the plane in handcuffs, as reported, nor were they kept in handcuffs during their five-hour detention, and they were not harassed by dogs.     Witnesses and aviation-security officials say security concerns arose because of the seating arrangement which resembled a controlled pattern used by the September 11 hijackers -- two in front, two in the middle, two in the rear of the plane. Law-enforcement officials say the men were not in their assigned seats.    

The request by three passengers, including Mr. Shahin, for seat-belt extensions, also concerned flight attendants. "That was a dead giveaway," one federal air marshal said yesterday. Flight crews are cautioned about giving out seat-belt extenders because you can turn it into a weapon very easily. You swing that belt buckle, and you can potentially kill someone."    

Mr. Shahin says that after they were questioned and released, US Airways declined to sell them another plane ticket, even after an FBI agent intervened at the imam's request. "I told him, 'Please sir, to call them.' And he did and talked for more than 20 minutes. He was trying to tell them we have no problem with the government and we can fly with anybody, but they still refused. He told me, 'I'm sorry I did my best.' I really appreciated it."    

Paul McCabe, FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, says no such call took place on behalf of the men. "That never happened," Mr. McCabe said.

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