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  Rep. Issa: I Was Profiling Victim

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Oct. 26, 2001; 5:58 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– Rep. Darrell Issa, grandson of Lebanese immigrants, says he was the victim of racial profiling when he tried to board an Air France flight to Paris this month.

The airline denied the California Republican a seat on a late-night flight from Washington's Dulles International Airport on Oct. 4, after he showed up at the gate an hour before departure with a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia via Paris, and, he said, "an Arab surname."

Air France workers would not budge, despite Issa's protest that he was a member of Congress who was departing on an official trip to the Middle East, and the intervention of Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., who had already boarded the plane. Both men carried a series of one-way tickets, including one for a return trip to Washington, which Issa said he gave to the airline employees.

"They disappeared with my stuff for 15 or 20 minutes. When they came back, they said, 'You're flying tomorrow,'" Issa said in a telephone interview Friday.

Air France spokesman Jim Faulkner said Issa was kept off the flight because he arrived late. "The flight closes at 9:30. He showed up at 9:40 according to our records," Faulkner said. "He caused quite a scene and he wasn't very polite."

Issa and Wexler, a Jewish congressman from south Florida, were headed to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Lebanon for talks on terrorism and the Middle East peace process. "Rob and I made a good team, showing how diverse we are," Issa said.

He caught up with Wexler the next day.

There have been widespread reports from Arab-Americans and Muslims that they have been singled out for closer scrutiny and discriminatory treatment since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Several incidents have occurred on airplanes, including passengers of Middle Eastern descent being removed from flights.

Issa said he wants Congress to look into racial profiling, "whether it's flying while Arab or driving while black," but not while the country is at war with terrorists, one reason he kept quiet about the episode for three weeks. "I want us to keep our eyes on the ball, which is the war we're fighting," Issa said.

The congressman recounted his situation with good humor.

"Rob was more frustrated than I was," Issa said. "He was facing going to Saudi Arabia without his Arab counterpart."

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On the Net:

Issa's office: http://www.house.gov/issa/

Wexler's office: http://www.house.gov/wexler/

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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