A licensed private investigator who has looked into the conflicting reports over the AirTran Flight 297 incident in Atlanta – described by some passengers as an apparent “dry run” for a hijacking – says the details are being kept quiet because the airline doesn’t want to be targeted with lawsuits like what happened in the “flying imams” case in Minneapolis three years ago.
According to a report from Douglas Hagmann, founder and director of the Northeast Intelligence Network, and a multistate-licensed private investigative agency, “everyone from the airline to the TSA and other government agencies want to keep [the situation] very quiet.”
“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,” he wrote.
“Interestingly, one airline official told me ‘we don’t want to become another Flight 300,’ which is a reference to a very similar scenario that took place aboard US Airways Flight 300 exactly three years ago.”
Hagmann’s report said some of the statements in the original e-mail were substantiated, as were a few of the statements from the airline’s explanation.
He said his investigation found a group of men dressed in traditional Muslim attire boarded AirTran Flight 297 Nov. 17 on a flight from Atlanta to Houston.
He continued in his report:
As the passengers boarded the aircraft, two of the Muslim men took seats in first class, while the remaining eleven were seated throughout the remaining rows of the aircraft. Most had carrying-on bags that they stowed in the overhead compartments above their seats.
As the aircraft began to taxi to the runway, a female flight attendant was beginning to issue the normal passenger advisories over the PA system. Almost on cue at the time passengers were told to turn off all electronic devices, one of the Muslim men seated in the front of the plane began to use his cell phone in a manner that was described by a flight attendant and passenger ‘as deliberate and obvious.’ He was talking loudly in Arabic, nearly at the level of the flight attendant. Some reports suggest that this man actually called another Muslim passenger, although this has not been immediately confirmed. It is possible, however, as another passenger reported that a Muslim man seated toward the rear of the plane answered his cellular phone at the same time the man in the front began using his.
At this point, the flight attendant in the front of the plane approached the Muslim man using his telephone and instructed him to immediately turn it off. A second female flight attendant did the same at the rear of the aircraft. Concurrent with this cellular activity, two other Muslim men seated adjacent near the middle of the aircraft began operating what one passenger described as a palm-type camcorder, ostensibly to view previously taken footage. It is possible, according to one flight attendant interviewed by this investigator, however, that the camcorder was being used for recording purposes. Whatever its use, a third flight attendant, aware of the incidents taking place in the front and rear of the aircraft, approached the two men for the purpose of securing the camcorder. At least two passengers reported that the men became abusive to the flight attendant and initially refused to comply with her request.
It was at this time that most of the passengers began to notice the multiple incidents involving over a dozen men dressed in Islamic attire. Next, as if previously rehearsed, at least 10 of the 13 Muslim men aboard the aircraft began to leave their seats at the same time. At least one passenger stated she observed one of the Muslim passengers using his cell phone to take photos of other passengers on the aircraft, while one other Muslim passenger sang loudly in Arabic. According to information provided to this investigator from one of the flight crew who was alerted to an onboard emergency, the aircraft was now being taxied back to the terminal. The TSA, FAA and FBI were notified.
“Having interviewed a total of seven (7) individuals directly involved in this incident over the last several days, including two law-enforcement officers who handled the after-action reports, the situation pertaining to the initial 13 and remaining 10 or 11 Muslim men allowed to continue their travels was far greater than an incident involving the unauthorized use of a cell phone that resulted in a minor flight delay, as reported by the mainstream media,” Hagmann reported
“According to one airline security official, ‘This was a deliberate, well-planned attempt to disrupt a domestic flight that was organized in advance of the boarding of these [Muslim] passengers. The purpose of their actions appeared to be multifaceted, not the least of which was an attempt to change their status from passengers to victims of religious profiling. The situation was handled in a manner that we believe might have avoided an incident like USAir had in 2006, where everyone from the passengers who reported suspicious behavior to the airline was subjected to legal action by the Muslim passengers,” the report said.
He said while it may not have been a “dry run” for a hijacking, the airline was “dead wrong” to call it a customer-service issue.
The situation was “hair-raising,” he said. “This was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.”
He said he ultimately continued aboard the flight when a new crew arrived because a pilot traveling as a passenger suggested it was a safe decision.
The airline has not gone beyond its original statement that it was an issue involving a passenger and a cell phone that prompted the pilot to abandon the flight and return to the gate. The entire flight crew also declined eventually to continue the flight, and they were replaced with another crew.
AirTran also has tried to undermine the original e-mail, from Tedd Petruna, saying he wasn’t even on the flight. Petruna has responded that he has a boarding pass.
Petruna’s conclusion was, “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. … The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes.”
While some other passengers say some of his descriptions were vivid for what actually happened, they agree the situation was significant.
Hagmann’s conclusion was corroborated by Mark Taylor, a private investigator and a terrorism writer for Family Security Matters. He said his investigation indicates Muslim terrorists were checking out the system.
“There are three independent versions of the story that collaborate the possibility that 11 or 12 Middle Eastern men appeared to be testing AirTran’s security,” Taylor said.
“The evidence tends to show that someone was doing what is referred to as a dry run, or what one television commentator calls a ‘shark bump,’ just to see if we’re paying attention,” Taylor explained.
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.”