British man kicked off EasyJet flight over 'prayer' message on phone

Laolu Opebiyi believes that a fellow passenger thought he was a Muslim and reported him as a security risk

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The Independent Online

A British man was removed from an easyJet flight after a fellow passenger saw a message mentioning ‘prayer’ on his mobile phone, reports say. 

Laolu Opebiyi, a business analyst from London, told the Guardian that the passenger next to him had questioned him about a WhatsApp message that included the word ‘prayer’, asking: “What do you mean by prayer?”

Mr Opebiyi explained that he was planning to pray with friends, but said that two minutes later the other passenger was talking to the cabin crew. 

The 40-year-old Christian, born in Nigeria, believes that the passenger next to him thought that he was a Muslim. 

The group he had been messaging via WhatsApp was called ‘ISI men’, which he says is an acronym for ‘iron sharpens iron’, a quote taken from the Bible. 

“Even if I was a Muslim, it was pretty unfair the way I was treated,” Mr Opebiyi told the Guardian. “I don’t think anyone, irrespective of their religion, should be treated in such a way.”

About 15 minutes after the fellow passenger went into the cockpit to speak with the plane crew, two armed officers allegedly boarded the plane and asked Mr Opebiyi to remove his belongings and accompany them into the terminal building. 

Mr Opebiyi, who showed the officers the copy of the Bible in his bag, claims he was asked questions about his religion. “They asked me what church I attend and how long I had been going there,” he said. 

He was also asked whether he had planned on changing his religion, and replied that he had not. 

A spokesperson from easyJet said:  "easyJet can confirm that, following concerns raised by passengers, the Captain of flight EZY2151 from Luton to Amsterdam on 25 February 2015 requested the assistance of the authorities who took the decision to disembark and question the passenger.

“The safety and security of its passengers and crew is our highest priority which means that if a security concern is raised we will always investigate it as a precautionary measure.

"After questioning by the authorities, the passenger was cleared to complete his journey so easyJet arranged a later easyJet flight for him. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to the passenger."

The officers cleared Mr Opebiyi for flight, but the pilot refused to let him on and he was made to wait a further three hours to board the next flight to Amsterdam. 

Mr Opebiyi told the Guardian that he is now fearful that he is on a terrorist watchlist, and said “I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in the UK”.