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Chicago Sun-Times: Arabic spoken? Plane grounded

By Norman Parish

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/534860,CST-NWS-air30.article

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A woman who complained that some fellow passengers spoke Arabic and “had odd behavior” prevented a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight from departing San Diego, police said Wednesday.

Flight 590, scheduled to depart at 11 p.m. Tuesday, left its gate about 11:15 but returned to the boarding area after the woman, who was traveling with at least one child, indicated she wanted to get off the airplane. The flight then was unable to make Lindbergh Field’s 11:30 p.m. curfew for departures, said Irene McCormack, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Harbor Police.

The flight, carrying 126 passengers, was rescheduled for midmorning Wednesday and arrived in Chicago in the afternoon, an American Airlines spokesman said.

McCormack said it is unusual for planes to return to the gate. She said it’s usually for medical and mechanical problems or a disturbance.

The woman first complained to the flight crew that four to seven men were possibly speaking Arabic in the boarding area. The woman added that they “had odd behavior.” The crew decided to return to the boarding area because the woman indicated she wanted off the plane.

The American Airlines spokesman indicated the plane returned to its gates because of a dispute between passengers. The spokesman didn’t provide details on the dispute.

A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said it returned because of “suspicious activity on board the plane.”

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, was upset about the airline’s actions. He said television reporters told him that six Iraqi Americans were detained after a passenger became uncomfortable with the men speaking Arabic.

“It is one thing to flag suspicious behavior, but to flag a global language? We are deplaning people for who they are, not what they do,” Rehab said.

The Associated Press reported Defense Training Systems had hired the men to train U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton in California.

McCormack said no one was detained in the incident.

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