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Arabs removed from flights; airlines investigate

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Airlines are investigating at least five reported incidents this week in which people of Arab descent were removed from domestic flights because they were considered to be threats to security, CNN has learned.

None of the men was arrested in the incidents, which involved three separate airlines.

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The pilots who removed passengers were not acting without authority, said Roland Herwig, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "The pilot has all of the leeway on a flight once the (cabin) door is closed," he said.

In one incident, Ashraf Khan, a Pakistani-American, said he was asked Monday to leave a Delta Air Lines flight from San Antonio to Dallas, Texas. The flight's captain told Khan the crew did not feel safe with him onboard, Khan told reporters.

Because it was the last flight out for the day, Khan said, he missed three other connecting that were to take him to his brother's wedding in Pakistan.

"Just because the people who did this were Muslims does not mean that all the Muslims are bad," Khan said in a written statement.

"We are aware of the incident," a Delta Airlines representative told CNN. "We take this matter very seriously. Delta does not condone discrimination in any form. We are looking into the incident."

Late Friday, Delta released an internal memo to employees from President and COO Fred Reid, reminding employees of Delta's nondiscrimination policy. He directed employees that suspicious passenger behavior, not their skin color, race or national origin should be the reason for passenger removal.

"Don't let last Tuesday's (September 11) events change you into someone suspicious of people just because of the way they look," Reid wrote. "If you do that, then the terrorists will have won."

On the Tuesday following Khan's removal from a jet, two Northwest Airlines pilots bailed out of the cockpit on ropes while their plane sat on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. An Arab man was removed from the plane.

The pilots left the plane because the flight crew "perceived" a threat, said a Northwest spokesman. In Minnesota, police at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport received a call Thursday about three suspicious men at a Northwest gate. The three were booked on a flight to Salt Lake City, Utah, said police, who checked with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and searched the trio's luggage.

The three checked out, but weren't allowed on the plane because their presence on the flight concerned passengers and the crew, airline managers told the trio. Northwest booked them on a Delta flight to Salt Lake City, officials said.

Arriving in Salt Lake City, the men told reporters their treatment in Minnesota left them feeling depressed and discriminated against.

Also Thursday, a Delta flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Washington was delayed when a passenger identified as a 15-year-old boy of Saudi descent was removed from the plane. The FAA confirmed that one passenger had been removed.

And in a third incident Thursday, an Egyptian-American, Maged Eisherbiny, said he was removed from a United Airlines flight from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California.

Eisherbiny was removed from the flight because the crew was uncomfortable having him onboard, Eisherbiny's wife told CNN.






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