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In a statement to police, a US Airways gate agent wrote that three of the men prayed in Arabic at the gate. "I was suspicious by the way they were praying very loud," the gate agent said.
Said Shahin: "We were never bothering anyone, not saying anything loudly. We were just prostrating ourselves, the normal way we pray."
Devout Muslims pray five times a day, but practices vary among cultural groups, said Owais Bayunus, a Muslim scholar in the Twin Cities.
"Those who pray in the airport would be more conservative Muslims who stop to pray at the designated times no matter where they are," he said. "Others accept the fatwa [an opinion by an Islamic legal scholar] that it is acceptable to combine the prayers during travel."
Before passengers boarded, one became alarmed by an overheard discussion. "They seemed angry," he wrote in a police statement. "Mentioned 'U.S.' and 'killing Saddam.' Two men then swore slightly under their breath/mumbled. They spoke Arabic again. The gate called boarding for the flight. The men then chanted 'Allah, Allah, Allah.' "
Marwan Sadeddin, another of the imams, said, "What bothers me the most is these false statements and lies that we were shouting, 'Allah, Allah.' This never happened."
Another, Ahmad Shqeirat, said, "That is a lie. We were not talking politics. And even if we did, so what? What is suspicious about that?"
Once the six were seated, two in front, two in the middle and two in back, and paid visits to each other to chat, some passengers became alarmed, the police report said. One passed a note to a flight attendant citing the alleged comments about Allah and Saddam.
Flight attendants alerted the pilot, who called airport police and asked them to remove the men from the plane. They left "cooperatively," according to the police report.
A bomb-sniffing dog examined the men, their luggage and the entire airplane and found nothing. The plane left for Phoenix about three hours late after the other 141 passengers reboarded.
After being questioned by agents of the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration, the men were released.
Asad Zaman, communications director for the Muslim American Society (MAS) of Minnesota, said an Arizona MAS chapter member called him for help about 11 p.m. Monday because the six imams had not arrived and one had called his wife to say police had detained them.
Within 10 minutes of a Minnesota imam's call to police, the six were free, Zaman said.
"This event would be the equivalent of Roman Catholic bishops being arrested in China because they wore clerical robes and invoked Jesus Christ in prayers," Zaman said.