What were those Northwest Airlines screeners thinking when they let a young Muslim man with no luggage and a one-way ticket board a transatlantic flight without the minor inconvenience of a full body search?

You may not remember the story the press dubbed the "Flying Imams" case, but it had a long grisly life in the American courts and must still haunt the dreams — and stay the hands — of anyone who works in the airline industry.

It all began in 2006, when six Muslim clerics boarded a US Airlines plane at Minneapolis-St Paul Airport but were removed after a number of passengers and the cabin crew, and eventually even the plane's pilot and the federal air marshal, decided their behaviour was suspicious. The men first attracted attention by gathering for a mid-day group prayer in the departure lounge. Once on the plane passengers claimed they moved around the airliner, not taking their assigned seats but finding a way to distribute themselves in groups of two. (Passengers called it a "9/11 plane configuration.") Then they were said to have loudly cursed American policies in Iraq. They also requested heavy metal seat extenders which they did not appear to need and instead of using them laid them on the floor at their feet.

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