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UC Berkeley Student Removed From Flight Out Of LAX For Speaking Arabic

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Southwest Airlines kicked a college student off a plane bound for Oakland for speaking Arabic. (Robert Alexander/ Getty)
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A college student was forced off a Southwest Airlines flight at LAX earlier this month because he was overheard speaking Arabic on the phone.The New York Times reports that 26-year-old Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at Berkeley, was on the phone with his uncle, who lives in Baghdad, before the plane took off on April 6. He was calling to talk about an event he'd attended in the city, the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, in which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech.

"I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it," Makhzoomi told the Times.

According to SF Gate, a female passenger sitting near Makzhoomi looked at him and left her seat, telling an airplane employee she overheard him making "potentially threatening comments," according to a statement from the airline.

A short time later, Makhzoomi was escorted him off the plane, where he was met by an Arabic-speaking employee who asked him, "Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?" Makzoomi told the Times he spoke to him "like I was an animal," and told the employee, "'This is what Islamophobia got this country into,' and that made him so angry. That is when he told me I could not go back on the plane."

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"I had an emotional breakdown and cried a little bit," Makhzoomi told SF Gate. "I was so afraid. I was so scared."

Makhzoomi was "searched in front of a crowd of onlookers while half a dozen police officers, including one with a dog, stood watch" before he was questioned by FBI agents, who asked about his family; he lives with his mother and brother in Oakland, while his father, a former Iraqi diplomat, was thrown in prison by Saddam Hussein, and later killed by his regine. Makhzoomi said his family came to the U.S in 2010.

Hours later, Makhzoomi was allowed to leave the terminal, and his ticket was refunded by Southwest. He had to purchase another ticket from a different airline, and got back to Oakland nine hours later than he intended to.

In a statement, Southwest said they removed Makhzoomi from the flight because of what it called “potentially threatening comments made aboard our aircraft” but did not elaborate. According to the Times, a rep for the airline said, "We regret any less than positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind."

Makhzoomi said he has no plans to sue Southwest, and doesn't care about being reimbursed for what happened to him—he just wants an apology.

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“My family and I have been through a lot and this is just another one of the experiences I have had,” he told the Times. "Human dignity is the most valuable thing in the world, not money. If they apologized, maybe it would teach them to treat people equally."