Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, the Iraqi refugee student who was forced out of a Southwest Airlines flight after speaking in Arabic, spoke in detail about his ordeal in an interview with the Washington Post.
Before he was eventually let off by the FBI agents and asked to take a flight other than Southwest Makhzoomi underwent what he described as a typical case of Islamophobia.
Makhzoomi was onboard the Southwest flight 4620 on April 6, talking to his uncle in Baghdad in Arabic before take-off. He spoke in Arabic, attracting the uneasy attention of a fellow woman traveller who reported him to the crew. A flight crew then approached him and escorted him out of the plane.
"I came here to the U.S. because I believed in the values of this country. Islamophobia does not serve to fight terror. It plays right into the Islamic State game of striking fear among us," he told the Post.
He said he was escorted out of the plane by an Arabic speaking employee of Southwest. "Why would you speak in Arabic on the airplane?" the employee asked him, he said.
"It's dangerous. You know the environment around the airport. You understand what's going on in this country," he continued, according to Makhzoomi.
Though the college senior at University of California at Berkeley tried to apologise, the crew member wouldn't budge.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that," he said. However, when the grilling continued he said "This is what Islamophobia has done."
The Southwest employees and the police personnel at the airport were angered by this and called the FBI.
Makhzoomi says more police personnel, sniffer dogs and three FBI agents arrived soon. He said one FBI agent pressed his head against the wall and restrained his hands at the back. He was frisked for weapons even as he called out he doesn't have a knife on him. A lady officer then pressed him to say what he thought of martyrdom.
"Okay, you need to be honest with me. Tell us everything you know about martyrdom," the agent told him.
Makhzoomi protested he never uttered that word on the plane. "I looked at her and opened my eyes very wide. I told her I never mentioned this word, ever. You can call my uncle - I have never mentioned that word. It's associated with jihad and terrorism, and gives a false image of Islam," he told The Post.
He was eventually let off by the agents and allowed to travel on a Delta flight.
Southwest said in a statement its employees responded to the situation as per protocol. The airline said it does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind and that the language was not the primary concern, but the contents of the conversation.
Southwest said the passenger who reported Makhzoomi to the crew understood Arabic but did not explain the specific content in his chat that alarmed her.
"A Southwest passenger onboard flight 4620 requested that our Crew investigate what were perceived to be threatening comments made by another passenger onboard. Both passengers involved in the situation spoke a shared language, Arabic," the statement said.
"It was the content of the passenger's conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation," the statement said.
"Our Crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate and report to law enforcement agencies any potential threat to civil aviation."