November 22nd, 2006 14:23 EST
Official Says, Homeland Security Dept. Opposes Racial Profiling
Washington -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it will review the conduct of its employees who were involved with the removal of six Muslim imams from a November 20 domestic flight bound from Minneapolis to Phoenix.
Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke also told USINFO November 22 that the department is opposed to the concept of racial profiling, Â" and its profiling techniques are based on suspect behavior rather than targeting ethnicities or faiths.
However, Knocke said that U.S. commercial airline pilots, bearing responsibility for the aircraft and safety of its passengers, are within their authority at any time Â" to request law enforcement assistance, and it`s always better to err on the side of safety and security than it is being wrong. Â"
According to press reports, a passenger aboard a US Airways flight told a flight attendant that the six men were engaged in suspicious behavior and security personnel subsequently removed those six men from the flight. The men were questioned by the FBI and Secret Service, and then were released, according to press reports.
The men, who flew to Phoenix on a later flight, said they only were praying, and the incident has been condemned by civil rights groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Security personnel are trained to look for abnormal human behavior that might suggest that an individual is attempting to get past our front line personnel with nefarious intent. That is in no way racial profiling. That is behavioral profiling, Â" Knocke said.
The November 20 incident resulted in a very inconvenient situation Â" for the six imams, as well as the passengers traveling on that aircraft, but Knocke said passengers need to be vigilant about alerting authorities if they see anything they feel is abnormal.
Ultimately, it seems that the information had led to a misjudgment, but we`re not going to be critical of that judgment, Â" he said.
He said that Homeland Security involvement in the incident was minimal and that the six imams successfully passed through the same security checkpoint screening procedures other passengers are subjected to without incident. Â" Knocke added that any time a Homeland Security employee is accused of engaging in racial profiling or other inappropriate behavior, our office of civil rights and civil liberties will look into that as a routine matter. Â"
The incident occurred at the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday period, when an estimated 25 million people are expected to board U.S. airline flights.
US Airways said in a November 21 statement that it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, Â" and pledged a thorough internal investigation into the matter.
"We are always concerned when passengers are inconvenienced and especially concerned when a situation occurs that causes customers to feel their dignity was compromised, Â" the US Airways statement said. The airline also pledged to cooperate fully Â" with law enforcement officials to determine the facts surrounding the incident. Â"
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)