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I was dragged off a plane and falsely accused of supporting Isis by fellow passengers – so why aren't they facing police questioning?

We begin to descend the steps and are met with our first question: 'Do you speak English?' My mind laughs – I only speak English

Sakina Dharas
Tuesday 23 August 2016 14:11
The tent city in Mina for pilgrims attending the Hajj: Sakina Dharas faced questions over pilgrimages to Mecca for the Hajj and Iraq
The tent city in Mina for pilgrims attending the Hajj: Sakina Dharas faced questions over pilgrimages to Mecca for the Hajj and Iraq

I had been waiting for my sister, the more articulate of the two of us, to share with the world a sound and witty summary of what happened on our recent trip to Europe. But then, as I waited, I realised I had to tell my story myself. I need to rant, vent and blow off some much-needed steam. Most of all I wanted to share to see if anyone else had gone through the same thing.

The story begins at 5am on a typically chilly, windy summer's morning in London. My younger brother, sister and I are boarding a plane, on our way to a weekend break. We've passed the “random checks” at the airport, navigated a seat mix-up at the gate, and have just eased ourselves into our seats, when a stone-faced air hostess approaches us. With one gnarly finger, she beckons for us to follow her.

My brother – thinking she means for only me to follow, and assuming it's just to do with the seating saga – immediately asks if he may go, to which she sharply responds, “You're all to follow me”.

With no further information, leaving us absolutely clueless as to what's going on, we get up awkwardly, follow her down the cabin towards the cockpit, and then make a sharp left at the exit, where she leads us off the aircraft onto the steel pull down steps.

“There,” she tells us, pointing down at the Tarmac, where gun-wielding policemen and men in dark suits are standing, awaiting our descent. “They want to see you.”

At this point, my mind freezes. What the hell is going on?

We begin to descend the steps and, as we do, we are met with our first question. “Do you speak English?” My mind laughs; I keep it inside. “We only speak English, officer. We were born and bred in England.”

He continued: “Right, we have to speak with you. A passenger on your flight has claimed that you three are members of Isis.”

I was incredulous. The early morning, my body running on two hours sleep, didn’t help me to handle this surreal episode. Our jaws all dropped in disbelief.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “They saw you with Arabic or praise be to Allah on your phone,” we are told.

So the debate begins. “Firstly, that's part of the Qur'an, our religious text, so even if we did have it, it wouldn't signify that we're a part of Isis at all. Regardless, we've had nothing on our phone remotely Arabic related this morning. Also, we're Indian by ethnicity, so we wouldn't even have Arabic in conversation with anyone.”

The last comment is met with shock, followed by even more disbelief when my brother explains how we ourselves have volunteered in orphanages of victims of Isis during pilgrimages abroad. The officers and agents immediately relax, but nevertheless proceed with their questioning: they want to know our jobs, our parents' names, our home addresses and workplaces, all our personal details as well details of all the social media we have (add me on Insta, babes).

To make matters worse, the man who appears to be an MI5 agent (yes, I cannot believe I'm writing these words either) asks me to talk him through my passport, including all my pilgrimages – hajj, and, unfortunately for me, also Iraq.

He informed me that he had already done full checks on my travel history as soon as the allegation was made and that we all came through clear. “So why are you taking all these details from me then?” I ask. “Oh, be sure that I'll be doing more research on you; if anything comes back, I'll be here waiting on your return.”

I can't take this seriously at all, especially coming from a man who is jotting down my information in a 1970s Columbo-style notebook while, unbeknown to him, little leaves of notepaper are flying off into the wind. The questioning lasts about an hour, and includes some absolute babble from me about how I work for the NHS, how I couldn't possibly be more British, and hardly even affiliate with any other culture let alone a terrorist organisation.

The MI5 and police officers apologise for the “inconvenience” (see also: embarrassment, humiliation and racial profiling) and assure us that, at a time where we are all “on edge”, they have to respond to threats such as these. Our accusers, we are told, were very “frightened”.

Muslim pilgrims begin rituals in Mecca ahead of hajj

When sanity washes back over like a cold bucket of ice, I am left with one question: if the rights of a “frightened” airline passenger with racist views extend to having my family dragged onto the tarmac for questioning, then what are my rights? What are our rights?

After all, my brother – my white-skinned, green-eyed brother – wasn’t initially accused of any wrongdoing himself. Our accusers, who we can deduce had been relying on nothing more than appearance, didn’t realise he was with us.

We were only allowed back on that plane, to continue our journey, because there wasn’t a shred of doubt on the part of investigators that we were innocent of the crimes accused – but somebody has been lying and misleading the authorities.

Why weren’t those passengers who made the false claim about us removed from the plane for wasting valuable police time?

A version of this post first appeared on Facebook

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