This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/2302

Muslims taken off plane reassure public "We're ordinary Asian lads who wanted to have fun - not suicide bombers' (just criminals)

August 27, 2006

23 August 2006 EXCLUSIVE: MALAGA JET MUTINY PAIR'S SHOCK AT PLANE EJECTION Sohail Ashraf & Khuram Zeb

We just couldn't believe they feared we were bombers We're ordinary Asian lads who only wanted some fun By Graham Brough

THESE are the two innocent Asian students kicked off a jet because other passengers feared they were terrorists.

Friends Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb, both 22, said last night they were stunned that anybody could think they were suicide bombers.

And they insisted they were just a couple of ordinary lads who wanted a bit of fun on a day trip to Malaga. Falk AdSolution

Sohail - who was marched off the Monarch flight to Manchester at gunpoint - said: "My first reaction was to laugh when I was told why we had been taken off the plane. Then I realised they were deadly serious."

Despite their ordeal, the pair do not blame the paranoid passengers.

Forgiving Sohail said yesterday: "These are nervous times and I can understand why people are so panicked.

"All I would say is, 'Don't be paranoid. Don't judge every book by its cover'.

"We might be Asian, but we're two ordinary lads who wanted a bit of fun.

"Just because we're Muslim, does not mean we are suicide bombers."

Khurram added: "I don't blame anyone for what happened. Actually I feel sorry for the people who thought we were terrorists."

The fun-loving pair visited the Spanish resort for a quick recce ahead of a proper holiday later in the year.

They are so far removed from extremism that they even spent the day boozing and tucking into a McDonald's burger.

Khurram admitted: "As Muslims we are not supposed to drink alcohol, but we did have a few."

Yet as they waited aboard the jet to fly home they had little inkling of the ordeal to follow. Fellow passengers claimed they were acting suspiciously and some grew so hysterical they burst into tears.

Yet the students had no idea they were suspected of being suicide bombers until security officials told them after they had been marched off at gunpoint.

Khurram said: "We just didn't twig. Why would we? Then we heard a child crying. I looked around and there was a girl of about 12 looking at me, pointing and crying.

"Her parents were putting their arms around her protectively and staring at us."

"One minute we were sitting quietly, looking forward to getting home, the next we were being bundled off."

Sohail added: "My first reaction was to laugh when I was told why we had been taken off the plane. Then I realised they were deadly serious."

The pair, studying for degrees at Manchester's Umist institution, believe the scare was sparked by an elderly lady sitting nearby.

Khurram said: "We were chatting away in Urdu and she kept looking at us.

"At first I didn't really take any notice. I just thought perhaps she'd never seen an Asian person before."

Sohail added: "She had to move to let us sit down and I knew straight away that something was bothering her.

"I tried my best to ignore her but she started asking me questions like where we lived and how long we had been in Malaga.

"When I told her we had only gone for the day she became even more suspicious. She kept saying that was a strange thing to do.

"Suddenly she got up and walked toward the cockpit."

The woman told cabin crew she feared for her safety and other passengers on the Manchester-bound Monarch jet joined the mutiny. Six travellers not even on the jet heard of the scare in the early hours of last Wednesday and refused to board while those already in their seats raced for the exits.

Sohail said: "The captain came over and asked to see our passports.

"Then another official said most apologetically, 'I'm sorry but we will have to ask you to leave the flight'.

"He told us everything would be explained once we got off.

"To be honest I was relieved. I should have been p****d off, but they promised we could get on the next flight and we knew there was little point in arguing.

"As we got off we could feel everyone looking at us. People couldn't get out of our way fast enough.

"We were then taken to an office where they explained people had thought we were terrorists." After being quizzed and released without charge, they were bought a meal, put up in a hotel and eventually put on a flight home later that day.

The friends deny claims they were wearing heavy leather jackets which aroused suspicion. They insist they merely had on light windcheaters, T-shirts and jeans.

But they were able to laugh off their nightmare in their hotel room . Sohail said: "We sat on our beds and Khurram said, 'You don't look like a terrorist'. I said, 'Neither do you'. Then we both collapsed with laughter.

"I suppose we were a bit hysterical. It all felt very odd.

"We've never experienced racism before so it was very unnerving."

Khurram went on: "I wasn't that bothered about what happened, but when my father heard he hit the roof.

"He said, 'Why didn't they throw all the passengers off instead of you? If they didn't want to travel, they should have been left behind'.

"I suppose he's right. We were victimised simply because we were Asians."

But lecturer Jo Schofield - travelling with husband Heath and daughter Isabel, 12 - tried to explain why panic gripped the 150 passengers on the flight.

She said: "Everyone agreed the men looked dodgy. Some passengers were very panicky and in tears. There was a lot of talking about terrorists."

The incident is the latest in a series that has seen innocent British Asians wrongly branded jet terror suspects.

Last week Manchester man Azar Iqbal was taken away from his wife and four kids as they flew into the US for a holiday and returned to the UK.

Earlier this month commercial pilot Amar Ashraf was taken off a US-bound flight and quizzed by armed officers.

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Yes I have criminal record says victim of jet mutiny http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=402441&in_page_id=1770#AddComment One of the Asian students escorted from a holiday flight after a mutiny by fellow passengers has a conviction for credit-card fraud. Sohail Ashraf and his friend Khurram Zeb, both 22, were removed from the Malaga to Manchester flight after other tourists voiced fears that the men could be terrorists. Two years ago Ashraf was fined 100 after admitting using someone else's card to buy petrol from a service station in Wilmslow, near Manchester. He also admits having convictions as a juvenile but refuses to say what they are. 'I have been in trouble,' he said. 'But it was when I was about 17 and I don't want to talk about what happened. 'It was not very serious - just a bit of trouble that young people get into. I did not end up going to prison or anything like that. It is best forgotten about and I'm not going to discuss it any more.' The revelation of his criminal past will heighten speculation about exactly why Ashraf appeared so shifty to other passengers on the flight. Ashraf claimed the credit-card incident involved just 9 worth of petrol and the card belonged to his brother. 'I was with a friend and his card was rejected so I used my brother's card. The attendant became suspicious and called the police. We were taken in handcuffs to the police station. After five hours I was charged with deception. I was told it didn't matter whether my brother had given his permission or not, it was still an offence to use someone else's card. 'I was photographed, fingerprinted and taken to court, where I pleaded guilty. That's the only stain on my character.' Details of Ashraf's conviction came to light as the row continued over the incident on Monarch flight ZB613. Passengers claimed Ashraf and Zeb aroused suspicion by wearing heavy jackets and jumpers despite the heat, continuously checking their watches and talking loudly in Urdu, which was mistaken for Arabic. The pair were marched off the flight on August 16 by armed police but were cleared by airport security and put on a plane the next day. They deny their behaviour was a hoax that got out of control. Ashraf said: 'People just don't seem to believe us. They think we are bad people or something.' Zeb added: 'I have had reporters coming to my door suggesting that drugs might be involved because I live in the Longsight area of Manchester, which has had drugs problems in the past. I have never been involved in any criminal activity.' But details have now emerged of their travel itinerary, which could be viewed as odd. The pair booked their flights after the arrests over the alleged plot to bomb transatlantic jets, paying 166 each for an outward journey landing at 7.25pm in Malaga and returning to Manchester at 3am the next morning - giving them less than eight hours in Spain. They said they wanted to 'check out' the resort before taking a holiday there next month. 'It was the cheapest way to do it,' said Ashraf. 'It only cost us about 350 including a hire car.' They spent their time in Malaga, he said, visiting bars and McDonald's. Ashraf, who lives in Manchester with his parents, brother and two sisters, added: 'We did not do anything to attract attention on the plane. It was only when a little girl started to cry that people got agitated.' Worried passengers on the flight - well aware of appeals for vigilance from airlines and the Government - were criticised by senior Muslim figures. Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei of the Metropolitan Police said it was the first example of an 'offence of travelling while Asian'. Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: 'What happened is hugely irrational. People must get their senses back in order.'

Day trip: Sohail Ashraf, left, and Khurram Zeb spent just hours in Malaga

MIM: The MPAC has decided to turn this situation into one where Muslims are the victims.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee has issued a call for complaints to be made in response to the case of Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb, the two innocent Asian students who were marched off a Monarch jet at gunpoint because other passengers feared they were terrorists:

We request you to make your feelings known to Monarch airline as well as the Department of Transport using the following contact details, calling for an apology by the airline and stating clearly that you object to the victimisation of particularly Muslim passengers because of their appearance and creed.

MOREOVER should the airline decline to make an official apology we will be calling for a complete boycott of all travel with the airline.

Copy all of these organisations in your email!

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/2302