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Imams Drop Fellow Passenger From Discrimination Lawsuit

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New York Sun - Imams Drop Fellow Passenger From Discrimination Lawsuit

Joseph Goldstein

Six imams who were removed from an airplane after drawing the suspicion of a fellow passenger have dropped the passenger from a discrimination lawsuit they filed in federal court over the incident. The imams' inclusion of the passenger in the suit had prompted Congress to pass a law protecting passengers who report to authorities what they regard as suspicious behavior from being sued. A similar law, in response to the suit, also passed in Albany.

Lawmakers said allowing passengers such as the tipster to be liable in lawsuits could prevent citizens from coming forward with information about terrorism threats.

The imams' move to drop from the suit any passengers who filed reports against them does not affect the new legislation.

Court documents suggest that one passenger, not several, voiced suspicions about the imams to the crew of the America West Airlines flight last year. That passenger, identified in court papers as a 33-year-old male, passed a note to flight attendants that calls the imams "6 suspicious Arabic men" and describes how they prayed, cursed American involvement in Iraq, and spaced themselves out across the airplane. Eventually police officers removed the imams from the flight, which was traveling to Phoenix from Minneapolis. The imams live in Arizona and California.

The portion of the lawsuit targeting America West remains active in federal court in St. Paul, Minn.

"The imams just saw the handwriting on the wall," Rep. Peter King, who co-sponsored a bill in response to the lawsuit, said yesterday of the decision to drop the passenger from the suit. "They saw they had no chance. And they saw they had provoked such an uproar from the American people."

The federal law passed in response to the suit applied retroactively and might have prevented the imams from pursuing the suit further.

The New York lawyer who represents the imams, Omar Mohammedi, said his decision to drop the passenger from the suit came after he learned the content of the passenger's note. The decision to sue passengers in the first place, Mr. Mohammedi said, was based on hearing reports that some of them claimed to have overheard the imams talking about Al Qaeda, which, he said, did not happen.

"If someone says, ‘I don't like the way they are praying,' that's not a false report, that's ignorant," Mr. Mohammedi, who serves on New York City's Commission on Human Rights, said.

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