An airline is fending off charges fueled by a widely circulated e-mail that an incident on a flight from Atlanta to Houston, reported by news media as minor, actually bore the marks of a “dry run” by Muslim terrorists.
The e-mail account of a purported passenger on AirTran Flight 297 on Nov. 17, bolstered by a separate investigation by Northeast Intelligence Network, contends that about a dozen Muslim men in “full attire” who were spread throughout the jet as it taxied to the runway caused a disturbance prompting pilots to return to the gate and bring law-enforcement officers onboard.
The airline, at its InsideAirTran website, denied many of the claims made in the e-mail, which purportedly was written by a passenger, Tedd Petruna of Houston, and circulated by a friend, A. Gene Hackemack. Neither Petruna nor Hackemack responded immediately to WND requests for comment.
After first rebutting Petruna’s written account point by point, AirTran later posted on its site a denial that the e-mailer was even on the flight, writing: “After conducting additional research into this situation, we have verified, according to flight manifests (legally binding documents) that the individual that allegedly created a firsthand account of events onboard AirTran Airways flight 297, a Theodore Petruna, was never actually onboard the flight.”
Yet questions remain, such as why was the flight crew was changed after a supposedly minor disturbance and why several passengers were so distraught that they refused to continue on to their destination after the men involved were allowed to reboard the airplane.
Douglas J. Hagmann, director of the Northeast Intelligence Network, said a passenger on the flight contacted him two days after the incident. Hagmann published a report of his group’s investigation, which concluded that the media, the airline and government agencies have not reported the truth.
“The reasons, I have been told, is fear of predatory lawsuits, negative publicity from accusations of religious profiling, and the obligatory subjugation to mindless mandatory Muslim sensitivity training that make a mockery of our American system of values,” Hagmann writes.
He said an airline official told him “we don’t want to become another flight 300,” referring to a similar scenario on a US Airways flight three years ago.
“Be prepared to be shocked, angered, and perhaps saddened by our national and corporate acquiescence to mafia-type tactics by Islamists who are engaged in a full frontal assault, and laughing about it,” he writes in the opening lines of his report.
WND attempted to contact Petruna via e-mail but received an automated response explaining he “almost got fired from his job” over his report of the incident and has received thousands of e-mails.
According to the circulated e-mail, Petruna was aboard the flight in first-class seating when the Muslims boarded, two of whom remained in first class while others moved throughout the plane.
“As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with,” he wrote. “At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the first stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she was not there.
“The second man who answered the phone did the same and this took out the second stewardess,” he continued.
AirTran insisted there were no reports of passengers making telephone calls at that point.
The e-mail report stated two Muslims then started watching a video, an incident confirmed by the airline.
“The third stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time,” Petruna wrote. “To which one of the men said ‘shut up infidel dog!’ She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin.”
AirTran denied there was any shouting.
Petruna reported he went to the back of the plane and told the man who had been on the phone and was walking around, “You WILL go sit down.”
At that point, the e-mail explains the jet returned to the gate and law-enforcement officers came onboard. AirTran said officers only arrived at the gate and did not board the craft.
The party was escorted off the airplane and their luggage unloaded, the e-mail reported.
“We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happen[ed], when suddenly, the door open[ed] again and on walked all 11!! Stone faced, eyes front and robotic (the only way I can describe it). The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having NONE of it! Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal. She told the TSA agent there was NO WAY she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and were going to go through their luggage with a fine tooth comb and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston. The captain and co-captain came out and told the agent ‘we and our crew will not fly this plane!’ After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. Five minutes later, the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on,” the report said.
AirTran’s report confirmed, “The entire party complied fully with crew members’ instructions to exit the aircraft in order to ascertain the situation. Their bags were not removed at any time.”
Petruna said he then had had enough, insisting on leaving the plane.
“If this wasn’t a dry run, I don’t know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it,” he wrote. “I’m telling this to you because I want you to know. … The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes.”
The airline’s explanation said it was no more than a minor disturbance.
“During taxi a passenger was noncompliant with crew members, using a cell phone and taking pictures. The flight taxied back to the gate and the passenger, who did not speak English, and his companion acting as his interpreter were asked to deplane. They were met by customer-service personnel and TSA,” the airline said.
“We bring this to your attention in order to dispel myths that are beginning to make the rounds in chat rooms, blogs and conspiracy theorists’ Web sites,” AirTran said.
But there was no explanation for why the original crew refused, after a passenger was noncompliant regarding the use of a cell phone, to continue the flight. Nor why a dozen other passengers were so distraught they left the airplane and were rebooked on later flights.
AirTran officials also did not respond to WND calls requesting additional explanation.
‘Flight attendants were sobbing’
KHOU reported that another passenger, Chaplain Keith Robinson, actually missed the original departure but got on after the airplane returned to the gate.
“Flight attendants were sobbing openly,” Robinson told the station.
He had been warned by a passenger getting off not to board.
“He said, ‘I just saw them, there were these Middle Eastern men. They were taking pictures. They wouldn’t sit down,’” Robinson said. “Besides that, he said a couple of them were making gestures with their hand as if they were shooting people.”
The disputed accounts of the incident are similar to the case of the “flying imams” in 2006.
The six Muslim clerics were booted from a US Airways Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight after alarming both passengers and crew with their behavior. Many on board feared the imams – who prayed loudly in Arabic, refused to sit in their assigned seats, fanned out in the cabin in pairs to occupy the front, middle and rear exit rows, ordered seat-belt extenders they didn’t need, criticized the Iraq war and President Bush, talked about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden and other disconcerting behaviors – were testing security procedures in a dry run for a future hijacking.
The imams, who insisted they were acting innocently, were detained for several hours and questioned by airport police, the FBI and Secret Service, and prevented from booking a later flight on US Airways.
They sued the airline, and the case was settled.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the settlement “a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of ‘flying while Muslim’ in the post-9/11 era.”
According to the judge, the imams had been subjected to “extreme fear and humiliation of being falsely identified as dangerous terrorists.”
But as reported in “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” by former federal agent P. David Gaubatz and investigative journalist Paul Sperry, there’s another, far more ominous and threatening side to the flying imam story – and CAIR’s involvement with it – that had not been told.
“CAIR brags this is a ‘victory for civil rights.’ It’s not a victory for civil rights,” Sperry said after the settlement was announced. “It’s a victory for future hijackers. This settlement will have a chilling effect on law enforcement and security at our nation’s airports. Even pilots will now think twice about bouncing from flights any Arabs or Muslims acting suspiciously and threateningly.”
“The victims in the case are not the imams,” Sperry emphasized. “The victims are passengers who are now more vulnerable to terrorist attack – thanks to CAIR which according to documents revealed in ‘Muslim Mafia’ manipulated this whole case from the start,” he said.
According to the hot-selling book, the ringleader of the flying imams, Omar Shahin, was involved in a similar disturbance aboard another airline several years earlier, as was CAIR.
“Rewind to 1999,” says “Muslim Mafia.” “That year, two Muslim college students were removed from an America West flight to Washington from Phoenix after twice attempting to open the cockpit. The FBI later suspected it was a ‘dry run’ for the 9/11 hijackings, according the 9/11 Commission Report.”
“At the time, however, authorities didn’t have enough suspicion to hold the students. And as soon as Hamdan al-Shalawi and Muhammed al-Qudhaieen were released, they filed racial-profiling suits against America West, now part of US Airways.”
Representing the two Muslim students was none other than CAIR, which held a news conference condemning “this ugly case of racial profiling” and urging Muslims to boycott America West.
“Muhammed and Hamdan had done absolutely nothing wrong,” CAIR’s Awad insisted. “Their crime was being Arab, speaking Arabic.”
In a bizarre prequel to the flying-imam event, the two Muslims aboard the America West flight spoke loudly in Arabic despite being fluent in English, also switched their seats and roamed the plane from the tail section to the cockpit as did the six imams, all the while asking suspicious questions about the plane and its routes.
“‘Flying Imams’ ringleader Omar Shahin is familiar with such shenanigans,” reports “Muslim Mafia.” “Witnesses say he prayed loudly in Arabic before boarding his US Airways flight – which also originated from Phoenix. And once on board, he asked for a seatbelt extender even though he didn’t need one and never used the one provided him. (He and another imam left the extenders on the floor of the plane.) And he roamed the cabin and tried to switch seats with another imam.”
Shahin also knew both of the students who were kicked off the America West flight, as documented in “Muslim Mafia,” which reports that Shahin ministered to them at his former mosque in Tucson, Arizona, where they had attended college on visas from Saudi Arabia. When they were arrested, Shahin rushed to their defense – along with CAIR.
Incredibly, reveals “Muslim Mafia,” “Shahin has admitted to being a former supporter of Osama bin Laden while running the Saudi-backed Islamic Center of Tucson, which functioned as one of al-Qaida’s main hubs in North America.”