August 25, 2006

Indians involved in mid-air panic say all well now

By Krittivas Mukherjee

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Twelve Indians who caused panic aboard
an India-bound U.S. airliner returned home on Saturday, saying
they were not ill-treated by the Dutch authorities and
requesting the matter be considered closed.

Air marshals arrested the men, all Muslims, on Wednesday on
a Northwest Airlines flight which was escorted back to
Amsterdam by military planes after they behaved suspiciously --
exchanging seats and mobile phones in flight.

After intense interrogation, they were cleared of any
wrongdoing and released. Their families have said they were
victims of racial discrimination.

The Dutch ambassador to India, who was summoned by the
Indian foreign office on Friday, expressed regret for the

"Yes we had exchanged seats," said Mohammad Iqbal
Batliwala, a garment trader in his mid-40s.

"We were in a group so we were adjusting seats among
ourselves. They misunderstood and thought we were going to do
something to the plane. They did not force or ill-treat us
while talking to us ... It has been sorted out," he added.

Batliwala and at least two others from the group were
greeted with garlands by anxious relatives at Mumbai's
international airport when they emerged from the building.

"We are happy to be back," shouted Shaqeel Chottani as he
walked out of the airport terminal. "Thank you media. There is
no problem now."

Both Batliwala and Chottani appealed to the media to
"please put the issue to rest," saying they were businessmen
and did not want the incident to affect their business.

The Indian government said on Friday it was upset about the
incident and had conveyed its views to the Dutch government.

"It's an incident which is not only unfortunate, it should
have never happened," junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma told

Sharma said Indian officials were preparing a full report
on the episode that sparked anger among relatives of the men
and led to fiery debates in Indian newspapers and on TV
channels over whether the episode was caused by racial

"These are times of suspicion and distrust and we Muslims
have to bear the brunt," Abdul Kadir Kolsiwala, father of Ayub
Kolsiwala, one of those arrested, told Reuters.

Family members of Ayub, a 35-year-old garment trader, said
they expected a written apology from Dutch officials.

Rubina, sister-in-law of another man, Sohail Nizami, said
all that the men were "doing was joking about something and

Other passengers from the flight, who arrived in Mumbai on
Thursday night, said they saw the men exchanging seats and
fidgeting with their mobile phones.

"I think the men raised the crew's suspicion because they
were not listening to them and changing their seats," said
Nitin Dalal, a passenger on the detained flight.