Malaga Jet Mutiny Pair’s Shock at Plane Ejection
By Graham Brough – Mirror.co.uk August 23, 2006
Earlier this week two Asian men were taken off a Manchester bound jet
after passengers became alarmed at their behaviour. If anything their removal from the plane and the other passengers nervousness is a measure of the largely media induced paranoia
that the “War on Terror” has brought. Ed.
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.
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.
Last updated 24/08/2006