A British man was removed from an EasyJet plane by armed police after another passenger saw the word “prayer” on a WhatsApp message on the man’s phone, thinking he was a terrorist.
London business analyst Laolu Opebiyi, 40, said he was originally trying to arrange a conference call prayer using WhatsApp, The Guardian reports. He had to give his phone and password to airline officials to establish his innocence.
Despite doing this and being cleared by a detective, the pilot refused to allow Opebiyi back onto the plane, and he had to wait another three hours for the next scheduled flight.
Opebiyi, a Nigerian-born Christian, believes the passenger next to him jumped to a conclusion that he was a Muslim and then that he was a terrorist.
“That guy doesn’t know me and within two minutes he’s judging me," Opebiyi told The Guardian. "Even if I was a Muslim, it was pretty unfair the way I was treated. I don’t think anyone, irrespective of their religion should be treated in such a way.”
"If we keep on giving into this kind of bigotry and irrational fear, I dare say that the terrorists will have achieved their aim," he added.
The man who accused Opebiyi of being a terrorist may have misread the name of the conference call group, ISI men (standing for the biblical quote “Iron Sharpens Iron”) as “ISIS” instead.
Opebiyi endured further humiliation when an officer accompanied him to the EasyJet desk in the airport to find another flight, and was accompanied by seven other passengers who left the previous flight because of the alleged terrorist threat.
One of the passengers spotted Opebiyi and said, "If he is on the next flight, I am not getting on the flight."
Opebiyi said he fears he is now on a terrorist watch list despite being cleared by authorities on the flight, ChristianToday reports.
"Someone felt I was a terrorist because they saw the word 'prayer' on my phone and now I stand in uncertainty about my freedom of movement in and out of the U.K.," he said.
In response to the incident, an EasyJet spokesman said: "The safety and security of its passengers and crew is our highest priority which means that if a security concern is raised we will always investigate it as a precautionary measure. We would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused to the passenger."