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Woman regrets plane episode

She refused to fly out of San Diego with 6 Iraqis on board. The men had been training Marines at Camp Pendleton.

September 02, 2007|Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- A woman who got off a plane before takeoff after expressing concerns about traveling with a group of Arabic-speaking Iraqi men said Friday she regretted the men were later questioned but she couldn't help being nervous.

The six men, some of whom are U.S. citizens, were on their way home to Detroit after a stint training Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Leigh Robbins, 35, elected to get off American Airlines Flight 590 from San Diego to Chicago late Tuesday with her two young sons after one of the men went into the restroom and started "clunking around" before the plane left the gate.

One of the men made small talk with her about being in the military, and she reported her concerns about the group to airport security before boarding. Security officers told her the men weren't behaving suspiciously and left without talking to them.

"I do feel very bad but I was just protecting my tiny little family," Robbins told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "All I could think of was 9/11."

Pilots decided to turn the plane around without taking off after taxiing from the gate. The reasons for the decision were unclear.

A call seeking comment from American Airlines was not immediately returned Friday. Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said earlier this week only that the "incident" that began in the departure lounge had been ongoing and the flight crew felt it needed to be resolved on the ground.

After turning around, the flight missed the airport's 11:30 p.m. take-off curfew and all passengers were sent off the plane. The men were then taken aside and questioned by airport police.

David Watan, 30, of Dearborn, Mich., said he and the five other men had no idea there was a problem until they returned to the terminal. He said they were embarrassed and baffled about why they were being questioned.

"Everyone who didn't look like us went off and did whatever they wanted," said Watan, a U.S. citizen who says he fled Iraq in 1991 and loves his adopted country.

"I would die for it," Watan told the newspaper.

A lawyer representing Watan and the five other men said the group wanted an apology from the airline.

"They can't just assume someone has a bomb strapped to them just because they are Arabic," attorney Lawrence Garcia said.

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