Two Men Temporarily Kept off US flight After Speaking Arabic

Two men were kept from boarding a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia this week because they were speaking Arabic, one of several incidents reflecting public paranoia since the Paris attacks.

Maher Khalil and Anas Ayyad were told by a gate agent at Midway Airport on Thursday that they wouldn’t be allowed on the plane because a fellow passenger had overheard them speaking Arabic – and was afraid to fly with them.

The two friends reportedly of Palestinian origin and in their late 20s, were eventually allowed on the Southwest flight, but only after being questioned by airport security and police, who Khalil told the local television affiliate he had called himself.

Once on board, Khalil said some passengers made him open a white box he was carrying – filled, it turns out, with sweets.

“So I shared my baklava with them,” he was quoted as saying.

Southwest Airlines said in a statement the flight “departed a few minutes behind schedule” after airline employees “completed conversations with customers who approached us during the boarding process,” without providing more details.

Similar incidents have reportedly taken place on other US domestic flights in the wake of last week’s attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people, which were claimed by the self-styled Islamic State (IS) extremists.

The militants group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, has also threatened attacks in the US, including releasing a propaganda video singling out New York.

On Wednesday, six men identified by fellow passengers as being of Middle Eastern descent were removed from a Southwest flight bound for Houston at Chicago’s Midway after they asked to switch seats, causing a commotion, the local agency affiliate reported.

“Our crews were unable to resolve the situation without delaying the flight so we rebooked the customers on a later flight that same day,” Southwest said in a statement.