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NEW YORK (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union filed five lawsuits Tuesday accusing airlines of illegally removing passengers who looked Middle Eastern.

The lawsuits, filed in California, Maryland and New Jersey, said five men were removed from flights last year because of their skin color. Four of the passengers are U.S. citizens and the fifth is a permanent legal resident. Two of the five are of Arab descent.

ACLU attorney Reginald Shuford blamed poor airline policies drawn up to respond to the threat of terrorism since Sept. 11.

Among the plaintiffs was Edgardo Cureg, 34, who said he was ordered off a Continental flight bound from Newark, N.J., to Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 31 because another passenger complained he and two other men had acted suspiciously.

``I spent the saddest New Year's Eve of my life alone, exhausted and depressed, with a bitter taste that lingers in my soul to this day,'' said Cureg, a permanent U.S. resident from the Philippines.

Michael Dasrath, 32, of New York said he was forced off the same flight after another passenger glared at him and told the captain, ``Those brown-skinned men are behaving suspiciously.''

The ACLU also charged that men were removed from a Northwest flight on Oct. 23, an American flight on Oct. 31 and a United flight on Dec. 23.

The lawsuits ask federal courts to declare that the airlines' actions violated the men's civil rights and to order the airlines to prevent future discrimination.

A United representative declined to comment on the lawsuits. Continental spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said the airline has a ``strong policy against discrimination in any form.''

Northwest spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert said: ``We are satisfied that our employees acted in accordance with FAA security directive and federal regulations in denying boarding to him. The action was not based on his ethnic background.''

American said that it was ``enormously disappointed'' by the lawsuits and that it has a long commitment to diversity.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it had received more than 60 reports since Sept. 11 telling how more than 100 people perceived to be Arab-Americans were forced off flights.