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4 Sue American Airlines Over Search

August 2, 2002

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Four New Jersey men are suing American Airlines, claiming they were wrongly removed from an airplane in March and strip-searched because of their Arabic names.

The men, who filed a lawsuit on Friday, say they were headed home from a Florida vacation when airline officials asked them to get off the plane prior to takeoff.

Three employees then searched them in full view of other passengers for 30 minutes, the lawsuit alleges, forcing them to lift up their shirts and lower their pants. The men said the captain eventually apologized and allowed them to get back on the plane.

The men _ Eyhab Matari, 25, of Prospect Park, Ehab Abdelaziz, 22, of Paterson, Osama Zeidan, 20, of Clifton, and Waesam Hamdan, 22, of Paterson _ are all U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent. They seek unspecified damages in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark.

``I don’t feel American now,″ Hamdan, who was born in the United States, said Thursday during a news conference at a Teaneck mosque. ``I feel second class.″

A spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline declined to comment on the suit, saying the company would not discuss pending litigation.

A slew of lawsuits have been filed against in recent months accusing various airlines of illegally removing passengers who looked Middle Eastern. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a handful of lawsuits on behalf of passengers, has blamed poor airline policies drawn up to respond to the threat of terrorism since Sept. 11.

The latest lawsuit marks the second time American Airlines has been accused of discrimination since last year’s terrorist attacks. A Secret Service agent assigned to protect President Bush was prevented from reboarding a flight to the president’s ranch in December.

The man, an Arab-American, said he felt he was mistreated because of his ethnicity.

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