Imams removed from flight agree to settlement

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH and JAMES W ALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 21, 2009 - 5:55 AM

The agency and US Airways acknowledged the six imans taken off a flight in 2006 were improperly treated.

Three years after six Muslim men were arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities, the "Flying Imams" have reached a legal settlement they say acknowledges they were treated improperly because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Few details of the settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis were available Tuesday, but a New York attorney for the imams, Omar Mohammedi, called the settlement "satisfactory to the plaintiffs." Mohammedi added that money is involved, but he declined to elaborate.

Another attorney for the imams, Frederick Goetz, of Minneapolis, said a few details remained to be resolved before the settlement reached Monday is completed.

Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and is a defendant in the suit by the imams, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the settlement.

"Law enforcement officials did what they believed was appropriate to ensure the safety of travelers based on the information available at the time," said the commission's general counsel, Tom Anderson. "We will continue to be vigilant in maintaining the security of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the safety of travelers who use it."

According to the Airports Commission statement, "the commission's liability insurance policy limits potential financial exposure in such cases to $50,000. The insurer has the right to assume control of the defense or settlement of claims and exercised that right in this case."

Arizona-based US Airways also is a defendant in the suit, but did not issue a statement Tuesday.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin, of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology, but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn't divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly. "It's fine for all parties. It's been solved. ... There is no need for a trial," Sadeddin said.

The imams were arrested in November 2006 while returning from the North American Conference of Imams on a jet bound for Phoenix. A passenger had passed a note to a flight attendant noting what he considered suspicious activity. The case sparked ongoing debate about the power of law enforcement to override personal rights in the name of security.

FBI Special Agent Michael Cannizzaro and airport police officers had argued that the arrest and removal of the imams was valid because there were reasons to be suspicious.

The imams -- Ahmed Shqeirat, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Sadeddin, all of Arizona, and Mohamed Ibrahim, of California -- argued that they were removed from the plane because of religious and ethnic bias.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled that the suit could move forward.

"The right not to be arrested in the absence of probable cause is clearly established and, based on the allegations ... no reasonable officer could have believed that the arrest of the Plaintiffs was proper," Montgomery ruled then.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights organization, took up the imams' cause soon after they were removed from the plane. The group hailed the settlement.

"[This] is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of 'flying while Muslim' in the post-9/11 era," said the council's national executive director Nihad Awad.

James Walsh • 612-673-07428 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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