Vigilance and profiling

Remember “the flying imams,” the six Muslim clerics who were escorted off an airplane in Minneapolis in 2006 because their odd behavior sparked terrorist worries?

Last week they settled their case with the Minneaopolis-St. Paul International Airport for an undisclosed amount of money. A spokesman for the airport said the settlement was to avoid the cost of a lengthy trial. It was “not an admission of guilt,” he said.

We’re glad to hear that, and equally pleased to learn the airport hasn’t changed its policies regarding potential terrorists.

Even so, there are legitimate concerns about whether other airport personnel or flight crews will now hesitate to take action against potential terrorists, fearing legal repercussions.

Flying while Muslim is not a crime, of course. People shouldn’t be removed from airplanes or other public facilities solely on the basis of their appearance or religious affiliation. But there was far more than that going on in the case of the flying imams.

They were praying loudly in the public part of the airport terminal before boarding the plane, witnesses said, even though private religious space was set aside in the terminal. One passenger told authorities they were also cursing U.S. policy in Iraq. Once on board, they reportedly asked for new seat assignments and several asked for seatbelt extensions, which could be used as weapons.

Taken together, these acts raised reasonable suspicions. Airport police, who consulted with the FBI, were justified in removing them from the plane and questioning them.

Recent arrests in Colorado and elsewhere indicate there are still radical zealots plotting to commit violence and create mayhem in this country. Vigilance against that threat remains necessary, and the settlement in Minneapolis should not discourage anyone from reporting or acting on suspicious behavior.

That’s not illegal profiling. It’s self-preservation.


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