A Muslim airline pilot who claims his religion cost him his job has told an employment tribunal that his bosses feared he might copy the September 11 attacks.
The Heathrow-based pilot, who cannot be named for legal reasons, worked for a well-known British carrier but was judged a security risk after he was arrested over an alleged terror plot. According to the airline, he was “in a position to divert or sabotage an aircraft”.
Asked by his barrister what he thought this meant, the pilot, who is British, replied tearfully: “I felt they believed I was going to fly planes into buildings. I believe the basis they had for that was my race and religion, because of the actions of other people of a similar race and religion.”
The pilot strongly denies the airline’s claim that he was unsuitable to fly because of his links to two alleged extremists suspected of “planning to use an aircraft as part of a hostile or terrorist act”. Both men were detained under the Terrorism Act. However, charges against one of them were later dropped while the other was cleared by a jury. The pilot and his brother – an active member of the Islamist extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir – were also arrested but never charged.
During cross-examination last week, the manager accepted there was nothing in the investigation file to indicate that the pilot would do anything “hostile” with any aircraft. But when the pilot’s barrister, Clive Sheldon QC, asked if the manager thought the pilot might “fly a plane into a tall building”, he replied that it was a possibility. He added: “The possibility is there for anybody if they are that way inclined. It’s about having 100 per cent confidence in your pilot.”
Giving evidence, a union official who represented the pilot during the airline’s internal inquiry said some of the questions asked about the two men were “offensive”.
The official said: “The airline provided no evidence at all to substantiate its allegations that the pilot supported members of a suspected terrorist organisation. The only political organisation mentioned by the airline was Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a suspected terrorist organisation. It is a lawful, political organisation.
“In any event, the pilot is not and has never been a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. His brother is a member, but this is irrelevant in our view. In the past, the airline’s employees have never been judged on the political views and affiliations of their relatives and acquaintances.
“Even though the airline was notified that the pilot was not a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the company still presented him with a copy of an alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir document – The Islamic Rule On Hijacking Aeroplanes – dating back over 25 years.
“It was utterly incomprehensible to me that the airline appeared to think a pilot with ten years’ unblemished service – and regularly in control of a plane – would somehow support or possibly be involved with hijacking.”
The official added: “The airline’s line of questioning came across to us as, ‘You’re a Muslim man with a Pakistani-sounding name. You must therefore believe in all this stuff or at least be familiar with it’.
“He has been caught up in the periphery of a criminal investigation involving two other Muslim men with Pakistani-sounding names. In other words, this whole case appeared from the very outset to be one based on guilt by association.”