Muslim Taken Off Plane By AirTran Speaks Out

A Muslim-American passenger, one of nine members of a family detained and questioned at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after fellow passengers on their AirTran flight reported hearing a suspicious conversation, says the family is trying not to be angry at what happened.

Atif Irfan, a lawyer from Alexandria, Va., says a conversation with his sister-in-law about the safest seats in an airplane were misconstrued by fellow passengers.

"It was pretty, you know, a benign comment," Irfan tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We didn't use any of those buzzwords like bomb or anything like that. ... Obviously, people that heard this gleaned something very different from it — that we were about to attack."

He adds: "People a lot of time, I think, hear what they want to hear."

Irfan, who was born and raised in Detroit, says his group was traveling with three small children at the time of the incident.

At first, Irfan was briefly questioned by federal marshals and later by FBI agents.

"The FBI agents ... very quickly realized that not only did we not pose a threat to that airline or that plane, but that, quite frankly, we were ... model citizens," he says.

The plane, however, had taken off without them and, Irfan says, despite FBI agents' requests, AirTran did not let his family board a later flight. Irfan praises the FBI's handling of the incident, noting that the agents then discussed the issue with US Airways, which did let them fly to their destination, Orlando, Fla.

"Normally, my wife and I are very careful about this kind of stuff," Irfan says. "This was, I guess, some time that we should have been a little more careful."

AirTran has since refunded the group's original tickets and reimbursed them for their US Airways flight to Orlando. The airline also offered to fly them home free and apologized.

Irfan says the entire episode was "somewhat humiliating.

"We try not to let it be infuriating."

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