Southwest can be sued for bumping passenger who spoke Arabic: U.S. judge

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday rejected Southwest Airlines Co’s bid to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit by an American of Iraqi descent who was removed from a 2016 flight after another passenger heard him speak in Arabic and feared he might be a terrorist.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu in Oakland, California, said Khairuldeen Makhzoomi could try to show that “Islamophobia,” coming amid a “sensitive political climate,” was a factor behind his removal, and that Southwest’s claim he was removed because he appeared to make threats was pretextual.

Ryu said Makhzoomi could seek damages from Southwest for alleged violations of federal and California civil rights laws, but dismissed claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Dallas-based carrier had argued there was “at most a scintilla of evidence” suggesting racial animus, and said its employees acted reasonably in considering Makhzoomi a possible safety threat.

Southwest did not immediately respond to requests for comment. One of its lawyers declined to comment.

“The case is moving forward, and we look forward to trial,” said Zahra Billoo, a lawyer for Makhzoomi. A trial is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020.

The incident occurred on an April 6, 2016, Southwest flight awaiting takeoff to Oakland from Los Angeles.

Makhzoomi, then a 26-year-old public policy student at the University of California, Berkeley, had been talking with his uncle by cellphone after attending a dinner featuring United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Two police officers and Southwest customer service manager Shoaib Ahmed removed Makhzoomi from the plane after a woman who had been seated nearby became agitated, and reported having heard him use words associated with suicide martyrdom.

“I would say the fact that ‘American’ was said next to it, and I’m on a plane, I wasn’t sure what to make of it,” the woman, her name shielded by a pseudonym, said in a deposition.

Makhzoomi, a U.S. citizen who arrived in the country as an Iraqi refugee, denied making threatening statements, and denied Ahmed’s claim that he had used the words bomb, ISIS, jihad and martyrdom on the plane.

Southwest’s lawyers also represent Ahmed.

Makhzoomi was questioned by local law enforcement and the FBI before flying home on Delta Air Lines , after Southwest decided not to rebook him and instead refunded his ticket, court papers show.

The case is Makhzoomi v Southwest Airlines Co et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 18-00924.


(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Children of Iraq’s Kawliya return to school after 14-year break

Children of Iraqi Kawliya group (known as Iraqi gypsies) attend a class at a school in al-Zuhoor village near the southern city of Diwaniya, Iraq April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

AL-ZUHOOR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Kawliya minority, also known as the country’s gypsies, have long been marginalized by society. But in al-Zuhoor, they finally have an elementary school again – nearly 14 years after the village’s only school was ransacked and destroyed at the hands of an Islamic militia.

Known locally as the Gypsies’ Village, Al-Zuhoor is near the city of Diwaniya, 150 km (95 miles) south of Baghdad. Roughly 420 people live in mud houses and reed huts lining unpaved streets.

With no basic services, the village’s primary school and clinic, built by the government of Saddam Hussein, were damaged by an Islamic militia in a mortar attack on the village in late 2003, months after a U.S.-led invasion toppled him from power.

The school was reopened with the help of U.N. children’s fund UNICEF after a campaign started by civilian activists on Facebook called I am a Human Being. It is made of a cluster of caravans provided by UNICEF on Al-Zuhoor’s outskirts.

The school has 27 children aged six to 10 and a teaching staff of a headmaster and two teachers.

Malak Wael, 10, said her family encouraged her to come to school and learn.

Headmaster Qassim Abbas Jassim said the school and the village suffer from a lack of electricity and safe drinking water.

Scorned by many Muslims and barely tolerated by the rest of society, Iraq’s Kawliya live a precarious existence. Lacking education or skills, they form one of the lower rungs of Iraq’s social system, and are not granted Iraqi citizenship.

Manar al-Zubaidi, representative of the I am a Human Being group who lobbied for a year for the construction of the school, urged the government to grant the Kawliya Iraqi nationality to help their children continue with their studies and get jobs.

Under Saddam, the Kawliya had some protection from persecution — partly in exchange for supplying dancers, alcohol and prostitutes, Iraqis say. The safety net disappeared with Saddam’s overthrow, leaving them open to the whims of religious militia groups contemptuous of their freewheeling ways.

The Kawliya speak Arabic and profess belief in Islam. Most originated in India, although a few came from other Middle Eastern countries.

(Writing by Huda Majeed, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S., Israeli troops train together in mock Mideast village

U.S. Marine and an Israeli soldier practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Amir Cohen

ZEELIM MILITARY BASE, Israel (Reuters) – The Israeli military hosted U.S. Marines this week for an urban combat drill in a mock-up of a generic Middle East village, sharing know-how and signaling the allies’ shared interests as their leaders close ranks on a host of regional issues.

“We are willing to work and train together, and if God wills it, if we ever need to be side by side, then we will,” Lieutenant-Colonel Marcus Mainz of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit told Reuters during the exercise at Israel’s Zeelim base.

His troops joined Israeli special forces regiments to practise battle formation, helicopter deployment and medical evacuations in a mock-up village in the desert, complete with Arabic graffiti and a fake mosque.

The maneuvers were part of a wider, biennial joint air defense exercise known as Juniper Cobra, which this year took place amid heightened Israeli and U.S. concern over the missile arsenal of Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Mainz said his troops had learned from the Israelis’ experiences in fighting Hamas guerrillas in Gaza, and had in turn shared tips from U.S. warfronts.

“They teach them what to see when they were either in the Gaza Strip or somewhere else on the battlefield, for us in Afghanistan and Iraq, and teach that young soldier what to look for,” he said.

U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. Picture taken March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. Picture taken March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“And what happens is they start getting excited and they are talking about ‘I learned this here’, ‘I learned that there’.”

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has boosted its already strong support for Israel – including by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move that angered many Muslims and Arabs who back the Palestinian claim on the city.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)