Siblings were questioned on London runway for Arabic text on their phones
Three British Muslim siblings were left ‘traumatised’ after being escorted off a plane in London’s Stansted airport and interrogated on the tarmac as armed police kept watch.
The incident came after fellow passengers accused them of being members of Daesh.
Officers quizzed sisters Maryam, 19, and Sakina Dharas, 24, and their brother Ali, 21, over false claims they were reading terrorist propaganda on their phones.
They had boarded the flight to Naples on the way to see the ruins in Pompeii when a stewardess asked them to accompany her off the aircraft but refused to say why.
The trio were met by armed police and an MI5 agent who questioned them for one hour.
The first question posed to the British siblings was: ‘Do you speak English?’
According to Sakina, a clinical pharmacist, the MI5 agent said to the siblings that a passenger on their flight had claimed that they were members of Daesh.
She said: “We had nothing at all [on our phones]. We don’t even speak Arabic, we’re [of] Indian [origin].”
Sakina added that her brother had not looked at his phone during their time at Stansted.
The only Arabic in her smartphone is within an app featuring verses from the Quran, she said, which ‘wasn’t open’ throughout their time in the airport.
All of the siblings were all born and raised in London, as was their mother.
Student Maryam, who will begin an English degree at King’s College London next month, told the media: “I was shocked, my sister was close to tears.
“The first thing the policeman asks us is if we speak English, which I personally find quite patronising. Just because we look ethnic. I don’t speak any other language but English.
“We’re told a couple had reported us having been reading ISIS materials. They said the pair of us, meaning me and my sister, had been reading ISIS material
“My sister and I wear headscarves. We thought, there’s clearly profiling going on here.
“We were just in shock. What is going on? None of us have been doing that. We’re absolutely flummoxed.
“We were asked, ‘have you had any Arabic on your phone? Have you been reading the Koran?’ We don’t even speak Arabic, we don’t know Arabic, we’re not even Arabs.”
The passengers who complained had incorrectly claimed that the women had a reference to the phrase ‘praise be to God’ on one of their phones.
Maryam had in fact been using her phone on the plane to send WhatsApp messages to her father, a pharmacist born in Uganda, about the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Officers also asked to see Maryam’s Twitter posts.
She said: “There was no evidence here. We were being treated like criminals
“The couple had lied and got away with it. It was offensive and hurtful.
“They tarnished our names in front of everyone on the flight, it was really humiliating.”
Eventually the three were allowed back on the flight – making a ‘humiliating’ walk past other passengers who saw them being quizzed.
But first an officer warned Sakina they would do further background checks on the family and if they found anything ‘[they] will be waiting’ when they landed.
Maryam said: “This was bizarre because, if we’re not a threat and we’re allowed on the plane, we’ve all agreed this has been a lie, then what’s the need?
“They said ‘if we find anything, we’ll be waiting for you when your plane lands’. What kind of threat was that to make?”
Sakina, who works at the University College London, said: “We would only have been allowed back on the plane if there wasn’t a shred of doubt on their part, so someone must be the liar here.
“In which case, why were those passengers not removed for wasting police time, lying, making false allegations and racial profiling?”
Essex Police said of the incident on 18th August: “Essex police were contacted with reports of concern regarding the behaviour of three people who were looking at their mobile phones.
“Officers at the airport spoke to them and examined their phones with their consent. They were quickly able to establish that no offences had been committed and the women boarded their flight.
“We are satisfied the call was of good intent.”
The airline said: “EasyJet can confirm that, following concerns raised by a passenger during the boarding, a member of ground staff requested the assistance of the police, who took the decision to talk to three passengers at the bottom of the aircraft steps, before departure.
“The police then confirmed to the captain that the passengers were cleared to complete their journey and they reboarded the aircraft and the flight departed to Naples.
“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 passengers.”
Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch UK, said the Dharas’ case raised ‘serious human rights concerns’.
“The government must immediately explain under what powers they acted, and how it is necessary and proportionate, on the basis of a spurious claim by a fellow passenger, to demand that three young British Muslims disembark an aircraft and be subject to questioning by an MI5 officer and told that the officer may be waiting for them on their return.”
Earlier this year, a British man called Laolo Opebiyi was removed from an easyJet plane by armed police at Luton airport after a fellow passenger read a message on his phone about prayer and reported him as a security threat.