Six Iraqi U.S. Citizens Sue American Airlines for Discrimination

Six men of Iraqi descent who were flying home after a stint training Marines sued American Airlines on Thursday, saying employees publicly humiliated them after a passenger expressed concerns about them to security guards.

The men, who sued in U.S. District Court in Detroit alleging racial discrimination, say airline employees grounded their Aug. 28 flight from San Diego to Chicago and detained them, believing they were security risks.

The men, some of whom are U.S. citizens, were returning to the Detroit area after training Marines at Camp Pendleton in California when another passenger expressed concerns to guards partly because she heard the men speaking Arabic.

After taxiing from the gate, pilots returned the plane to the terminal. The six men were segregated and detained while the airline helped more than 100 passengers find hotel rooms, according to a prepared statement from the men.

The suit was filed on behalf of David Al-Watan, Talal Cholagh, Ali Alzerej, Hassan Alzerej, Hussein Alsalih and Mohammad Al-Saedy.

"They treated me like a terrorist," Al-Watan, 30, said in the statement. "We didn't do anything wrong, but they made everybody scared of us."

Flight 590's crew returned the plane to the gate to resolve potential security problems, airline spokesman Tim Wagner said in a statement.

"All passengers disembarked the aircraft after it was determined that it would not be able to redepart because of San Diego International Airport's 11:30 p.m. flight curfew," Wagner said. "Several passengers were briefly interviewed by law enforcement officers. No passenger was arrested."

The six men took flights with the airline the next morning, Wagner said.

The men worked for Defense Training Systems, a unit of International Logistics Services Corp. of Anchorage, Alaska.