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Muslim group: two imams pulled from plane bound for North Carolina

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Both men were prominent imams and dressed in Muslim attire
  • Airline apologizes but does not say why the men were taken off the plane
  • The men say they were told passengers were uncomfortable

(CNN) -- An airline is investigating the removal of two imams from a flight headed to North Carolina, ostensibly because passengers felt uncomfortable with their presence of the pair -- both clad in Islamic attire.

The incident occurred Friday on an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight from Tennessee to North Carolina and it involved Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul were wearing traditional Muslim dress, CNN affiliate WCNC reported.

The two -- who hold high religious positions in the Muslim community -- were headed to North Carolina for a conference on prejudice against Muslims, or Islamaphobia. The meeting is sponsored by the North American Imams Federation.

Rahman, who is a professor at the University of Memphis, told the affiliate that the incident reminded him of the prejudice Rosa Parks faced during the civil rights movement.

"That history I found today in that plane, and it shouldn't happen with any other person," he said.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which operated the flight, said the incident is under investigation, and apologized "for any inconvenience that this may have caused."

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Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the civil rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN the two men contacted his office and said they were told that passengers were uncomfortable with them on the flight.

"They went through security, even went through secondary security, and got on the plane, were taxiing out," he said.

But then, they were taxied back, Hooper said.

"TSA came on and pulled them off and said the pilot was refusing to fly with them because passengers were uncomfortable with them," Hooper said, referring to the Transportation Security Administration.

Hooper said officials re-screened them and found they were no threat.

While officials tried to get the men back on the plane, "the pilot absolutely refused and ultimately took off," Hooper said.

The airlines did not say why the two men were taken off the flight, but said they were given the opportunity to fly on a different flight.

"Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 5452 from Memphis to Charlotte returned to the gate to allow for additional screening of a passenger and the passenger's companion," the statement said. "We take security and safety very seriously, and the event is currently under investigation."

CNN's Rick Martin, Craig Bell and Maria Ebrahimji contributed to this report.