A British-born Nigerian was removed from an Easyjet flight at Luton airport after a fellow passenger read a message that mentions ‘prayer’ on his mobile phone and alerted cabin crew, who raised alarm with the police.
Laolu Opebiyi was using WhatsApp to arrange a conference call prayer session with friends, as the Amsterdam-bound flight was waiting to take off at Luton airport on Thursday February 25 when a passenger next to him questioned him about message that included the word ‘prayer’ asking “What do you mean by prayer?”
The 40-year-old Nigerian-born business analyst from London explained to the passenger that he was preparing to pray with friends. Few minutes later, he was pulled off the flight by two firearms officers. It is thought the man misread the name of Mr Opebiyi’s prayer group “ISI men” – which stands for “iron sharpens iron” from a Bible quote – as Isis.
Mr Opebiyi said: “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. If we keep on giving into this kind of bigotry and irrational fear, I dare say that the terrorists will have achieved their aim.”
Mr Opebiyi was taken into questioning by police and quizzed about his Christian faith and where he attends church. He was forced to hand over his phone and password so officers could check his communication. He was eventually freed and allowed to catch another flight about three hours later.
Seven other passengers reportedly got off the flight fearing a terror threat and also took the next plane, Guardian reports.
A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire Police said: “Officers attended and a passenger was removed from the flight as part of the enquiries. Officers notified easyJet that they were satisfied that there was no concern around the passenger travelling.”
A spokeswoman for easyJet who apologised over the incident said: “Easyjet can confirm that following concerns raised by passengers, the captain of flight EZY2151 from Luton to Amsterdam requested the assistance of the authorities who took the decision to disembark and question the passenger. The safety and security of its passengers and crew is our highest priority which means that is a security concern is raised we will always investigate it as a precautionary measure. After questioning by the authorities, the passenger was cleared to complete his journey so easyJet arranged a later easyJet flight for him. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to the passenger”
The officers cleared Mr Opebiyi for flight but the pilot refused to let him on and he was made to wait a further three hours to board the next flight to Amsterdam. He said that he is afraid that he is on a terrorist watchlist.
“I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in the UK” he said.