The flying imams: What didn’t happen

Audrey Hudson follows up her two Washington Times stories on the flying imams with an interview of ringleader Omar Shahin: “Imam disputes ties to Hamas.” It’s an oddly muted interview by contrast, for example, with this AP report. Shahin does not claim that the imams were mistreated by authorities. No handcuffs. No barking dogs. He speaks up for US Airways: “We love US Airways, and we want to fly with them,” he said, which I’m sure is a great comfort to all involved.
Shahin denies knowing that the KindHearts charity he supported was a Hamas front. Although KindHearts was established as a successor to the Global Relief Foundation shuttered by the feds after 9/11, he asserts that his involvement with the charity was an innocent mistake. Is he to be believed?
Hudson apparently didn’t inquire about the seat belt extenders for which two or three of the imams asked. Shahin was in fact reportedly one of the imams who received a seat belt extender despite the fact that he has no apparent need for one.
On the question of Shahin’s credibility, Hudson’s article saves the best for last:

Mr. Shahin says that after they were questioned and released, US Airways declined to sell them another plane ticket, even after an FBI agent intervened at the imam’s request. “I told him, ‘Please sir, to call them.’ And he did and talked for more than 20 minutes. He was trying to tell them we have no problem with the government and we can fly with anybody, but they still refused. He told me, ‘I’m sorry I did my best.’ I really appreciated it.”
Paul McCabe, FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, says no such call took place on behalf of the men. “That never happened,” Mr. McCabe said.

But where did all those reports of imams in handcuffs come from? The answer to that question also belies Shahin’s credibility, though one must look outside the four corners of Hudson’s story to see why. According to another AP report, the yammering about handcuffs came from Shahin himself at the time of the incident:

“They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way,” said Omar Shahin, of Phoenix.
The six Muslim scholars were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Shahin, president of the group. Five of them were from the Phoenix-Tempe area, while one was from Bakersfield, Calif., he said.
Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam.
“I never felt bad in my life like that,” he said. “I never. Six imams. Six leaders in this country. Six scholars in handcuffs. It’s terrible.”

It’s terrible — terrible he made up the stuff about the imams in handcuffs special for the first wave of publicity about the incident. Those imams in handcuffs — I guess, to quote Paul McCabe, “that never happened” either.


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