Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a media figure and founder of Muslim Girl who ran for New Jersey’s 6th congressional district was arrested Saturday and taken off a flight at Newark Airport after she said she was wrongly singled out during an incident with a white male passenger, according to an airline spokesperson.
Al-Khatahtbeh, 28, was escorted off American Airlines flight 2029 at about 9:55 a.m., just as the Charlotte, North Carolina-bound flight was slated to depart. Passengers were temporarily deboarded, according to Andrew Trull, an American Airlines spokesperson.
Trull said she was charged, but directed additional questions to the Port Authority police, who responded to the incident and removed Al-Khatahtbeh from the aircraft. Lindsay Kryzak, a Port Authority spokeswoman said Al-Khatahtbeh was briefly taken into custody and released, but declined to say if and what Al-Khatahtbeh was charged with. The Port Authority’s independent inspector general has started an investigation, Kryzak said.
Al-Khatahtbeh, a Rutgers University graduate and New Brunswick native, took to Twitter to detail the alleged incident with a “white man” who complained about her. She live tweeted her interaction with him before using Facebook to livestream her interaction with a Port Authority officer while on the aircraft.
Wearing a hijab with the veil covering her nose and mouth, Al-Khatahtbeh, in the Facebook live, is confronted while seated on the plane by a Port Authority officer and asked to leave the aircraft. Al-Khatahtbeh refuses, telling the officer, “I don’t want you guys to talk to me unless you also talk to the man who made the complaint against me. Is he coming out too?”
After telling her to sit back down, police emptied the plane. As passengers grabbed their belongings and departed, Al-Khatahtbeh kept streaming on Facebook, stating from her seat: “I refused to get off because they’re not taking the man that made me feel uncomfortable and complained about me off the plane.”
She is the last to depart the plane and is placed under arrest. Just before an officer turns off her phone, Al-Khatahtbeh could be heard asking her followers to call the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, before declaring: “I’m not under arrest. For what?”
Al-Khatahtbeh said in her video the confrontation with the man began while she was taking off her shoes at the TSA checkpoint inside the airport. The man, she claimed, “forced himself in front of me, [said] ‘I’m first class, I’m pre-check,’ and because I recorded the entire thing, he complained to the captain I was harassing him.”
Al-Khatahtbeh said she told the man he could “wait like everybody else,” but he instead “ran” through the machine and was not stopped by an employee. Instead, she was told to “cut it out,” she said.
Trull said the airline is “concerned” by Al-Khatahtbeh’s allegations and his team “is working to understand what occurred.”
He would not confirm if the man involved was removed from the flight. The flight departed an hour after its scheduled time.
Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, Amani’s brother, took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon, claiming that he had not spoken to his sister but said she had been “shoved” by a white male passenger. He later tweeted that she was handcuffed “because she refused to take her hijab off.”
USA TODAY has reached out Amani Al-Khatahtbeh for comment.
In a statement, CAIR and CAIR-New Jersey called on American Airlines to explain why it ordered Al-Khatahtbeh, and not the man, to exit the aircraft.
“Although we do not yet know all of the facts about this incident, we do know that American Airlines has a history of mistreating Muslim travelers,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “The airline must immediately explain why it singled out Amani by contacting the police and ejecting her from a flight based on the word of a man who had allegedly harassed her.”
“Law enforcement must immediately release Amani from custody and conduct a full and transparent investigation into what happened,” said CAIR-New Jersey Executive Director Selaedin Maksut. “Any investigation must look into the conduct of the unidentified man who allegedly sparked this disturbing incident.”
Al-Khatahtbeh, who marked history as the state’s first Muslim woman to seek federal office, was named to Forbes 20 Under 30 in media for her work with Muslim Girl. CNN listed her as one of its top 25 most influential Muslim Americans in 2018.
She is also the author of “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age,” a memoir about her experience growing up in New Jersey as a Muslim American after 9/11.
In April, Al-Khatahtbeh was the subject of a violent, obscenity-laced phone call where the unknown man attacked her with racial slurs and threatened to torture and kill her family. She said on Twitter she posted the nearly two-minute exchange so people can get a sense of the hate that Muslims and minorities face.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.