Turbulence on flight 363: Prudence, or profiling?

As he sat in Seat 19B aboard American Airlines Flight 1191 to Dallas, Walied Shater said he had reason to smile. It was a work day, but he was dressed comfortably in a knit shirt, khakis and sneakers, plus he was
collecting holiday pay for volunteering to protect the president on Christmas Day, when other Secret Service agents would rather take time off.

But events were about to happen at Baltimore-Washington International Airport that would wipe the smile off Shater's face. Minutes before takeoff, the airplane broke down. Shater had to leave his seat and walk to
a gate next door to catch American Flight 363. The schedule change voided the E2 form he had filled out to carry his loaded handgun aboard the plane. He had to get another one. His troubles were about to begin.

In his first public statement since his ejection from the plane and the flurry of national news reports that followed, Shater rebutted American's contention that he was thrown off the plane for acting suspiciously and for being hostile after he was confronted for improperly filling out paperwork and not signing it.

"I was never told there was a problem with American's paperwork," Shater said.

"If someone had asked me, I could have told him that American Airlines' employees made the changes to the first form and that I was simply waiting for the gate agent to complete his portion of the second form before I completed and signed it."

Shater, an agent assigned to the Presidential Protection Division of the Secret Service, was on his way to Crawford, Tex., to guard President Bush. He would not comment directly to The Washington Post for this article. His statement, co-written by his attorney Christy E. Lopez of Relman and Associates in Washington, was provided yesterday via e-mail. Lopez said Shater believes he was pulled from the flight because he is Arab American and Muslim…

…Lopez said her client spoke out to give his version of the story and, thereby, widen the explanation of what happened aboard Flight 363: careful policing by the airline or a case of racial intolerance? Two federal
agencies, the Department of Transportation, where Shater filed his complaint, and the Secret Service, where the airline filed its complaint, are investigating.

A third organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filed a complaint with the airline in hopes of getting an apology for removing Shater from the plane…


Professor's terrorist links divide University in Tampa

Anger, fear, charges of terrorism support, death threats and cries of trampled liberties are tearing at the University of South Florida as administrators there try to fire a tenured professor.

Sami Al-Arian, a 43-year-old Palestinian and associate computer-science professor, has been investigated by the FBI and the university on suspicions that he once supported Islamic extremists who may be involved in terrorism. He steadfastly denies any wrongdoing, insisting such accusations are based on old reports that have been investigated and dropped and are misunderstood when discussed out of the context.

He has never been charged with a crime or -- until now -- with breaking university rules.

But Al-Arian's alleged ties to terrorists nonetheless have caused havoc and fear on the USF campus. The climate has led school officials to conclude Al-Arian must go. And they're forcing him to fight for his job. Further aggravating USF leaders, Al-Arian has continued, against their wishes, to speak out about allegations of his past. And every time he does, the university fields more death threats.

The fight over his job has split the university. And it has gained national notoriety, becoming a touchstone for two causes that now clash at USF since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: campus safety concerns and freedom of speech…


Federal judge in Seattle rejects challenge to mandatory bowing in Judo

Requiring judo contestants to bow before a picture of the founder of the Japanese martial art does not violate freedom of religion, a federal judge ruled.

In a 13-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said three Seattle-area residents could be required to observe the ritual while participating in competitions.

James and Leilani Akiyama, 17 and 14, and Jay Drangeid, 40, had fought the rule, saying it amounted to a religious ritual being imposed on them. A 1997 injunction has allowed the three to compete in U.S. judo matches without performing the ritual.

"Virtually any restriction or regulation imposed by a public accommodation could impinge upon a person's religious beliefs," Lasnik wrote in dismissing the injunction Thursday…

"…We have a half-dozen Muslim kids who want to compete in the state championships coming up Jan. 26 and they can't compete because of their religious beliefs," Holm said.

Competitors in judo, which has its roots in Shintoism, bow several times during competitions, usually to a portrait of Jigoro Kano, the Japanese founder of the sport. Bowing is mandatory in international competitions.