Flying Imams’ Ship Comes In

October 22, 2009 by  


By Paul Walsh and James Walsh

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Imams in Minneapolis airport.

A settlement has been reached in the “Flying Imams” federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

According to federal court records, the settlement was reached Monday and filed with the court today.

A New York attorney for the imams, Omar Mohammedi, this afternoon 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 is finalized.

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.

Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and is a defendant in the suit, 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 MAC’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 statement by the MAC, “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 U.S. Airways also is a defendant in the suit. The airline has yet to comment today.

CAIR, the Washington-based civil rights organization that took up the imams’ cause soon after they were removed from the plane, 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 CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

The case sparked ongoing debate about the power of law enforcement to override personal rights in the name of security.

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.

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 of a crime.

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.

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