TSA Defends Holding Student With Arabic Flash Cards at Philadelphia Airport

The Transportation Security Administration is defending its treatment of a California college student who was detained at the Philadelphia airport after Arabic flash cards were found in his backpack.

Nick George, a senior at Pomona College, told a Philadelphia Daily News columnist that the stereo speakers he was carrying in his bag on Aug. 29 led TSA workers to pull him out of the metal detector line and search him.

When they found 200 Arabic/English flash cards in his carry-on, they escorted him to another screening area and questioned him for about 45 minutes, he said.

Suspicions may have been raised because his passport had stamps from Jordan, where he'd studied abroad, and from his trips to Egypt and the Sudan, the News reported. It didn't help that "terrorist" and "explosion" were among the words on his flash cards — which George says he was using to help him understand Al Jazeera TV.

But George believes things got out of hand when, he says, a Philadelphia police officer put handcuffs on him and took him to the airport holding cell for several hours. He was released after another round of questioning from the FBI, he told the Daily News.

He missed his flight and was issued a new ticket for a departure the next day.

The TSA denies George's version of events, explaining that he was flagged for questioning even before he was in the security line because officials thought he was acting suspiciously.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis told the Daily News that George caught the attention of the agency's behavioral specialists, who are on the lookout for "involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered."

The report filed on the incident suggests that George's "behavior escalated to a point where our officers deemed it necessary to contact the Philadelphia Police Department," Davis said.

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