LONDON: A British man was removed from a plane by armed police at Luton airport, United Kingdom last week after a fellow passenger read a message on his phone about ‘prayer’ and reported him as a security threat.
Laolu Opebiyi, a Nigerian-born Christian, believes the passenger next to him on an easyJet flight assumed he was a Muslim and jumped to the conclusion that he may be a terrorist.
The 40 year-old from London was forced to hand over his phone and supply his password in order to establish his innocence after he tried to arrange a conference call prayer with friends using WhatsApp.
Even though a detective cleared him, the pilot refused to allow him back onto the plane to Amsterdam and he was left with no choice but to wait more than three hours for the next scheduled departure.
“That guy doesn’t know me and within two minutes he’s judging me. Even if I was a Muslim, it was pretty unfair the way I was treated. I don’t think anyone, irrespective of their religion should be treated in such a way,” he told a local newspaper.
“If we keep on giving into this kind of bigotry and irrational fear, I dare say that the terrorists will have achieved their aim,” he added.
During questioning, Opebiyi explained that he was a Christian, showing them a copy of the Bible in his bag. “They asked me which church I attend and how long I have been going there. They also ask if I have ever thought about changing my religion to which I replied ‘no’.”
He was also asked about the name of the conference call prayer group, which was “ISI men” an acronym for “iron sharpens iron”, from the Bible quote: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The passenger who reported Opebiyi may have misread this as “ISIS”, an acronym for Islamic State.
Opebiyi, who is a business analyst, was then escorted by an officer to an easyJet desk to help him get on the next flight. Seven other passengers from the same flight also joined the queue as they had left the plane because of security fears.
Opebiyi said one of them spotted him and said, “If he is on the next flight, I am not getting on the flight.”
The 40-year-old now fears that he is on a terrorist watchlist because when he returned the next day from his business trip, the electronic passport gate did not let him through and he had to speak to an immigration officer before proceeding.
“Someone felt I was a terrorist because they saw the word ‘prayer’ on my phone and now I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in and out of the United Kingdom,” he said.
An easyJet spokesperson said, “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. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to the passenger.”