Half-Jewish, Half-Arab Woman Sues FBI, TSA, Frontier Airlines Over 9/11 Strip Search

Shoshana Hebshi says authorities pulled her from flight because of ethnicity.

January 23, 2013, 11:06 AM

Jan. 23, 2013 — -- A half-Jewish, half-Arab Ohio woman is suing Frontier Airlines, the FBI, TSA and other government agencies after she says was removed at gunpoint from a flight on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, strip-searched and jailed because of her ethnicity.

"I know now that my only crime on that day was an ethnic name and arbitrary seat assignment," said Shoshana Hebshi, a 36-year-old freelance journalist born in California to a Jewish mother and a Saudi father, said at a press conference Tuesday.

In her lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in Detroit federal court Tuesday, Hebshi alleges she was removed at gunpoint from a Denver to Detroit flight on Sept. 11, 2011, when passengers and flight crew became suspicious after two men of South-Asian descent seated next to her made several trips to the bathroom during the flight.

"As officers boarded the plane," said Hebshi at the press conference, "we were ordered to put our heads down and our arms in front of us. I wondered if there was a fugitive on board. I had no idea they were coming for me. … I was completely shocked and panicked."

Hebshi claims that after she was taken from the plane in handcuffs, she was held in a "dirty cell" at the Detroit Metro Airport for more than four hours. According to the complaint, she was also asked to strip, spread her legs and cough.

The two men who were sitting next to her, also residents of the Detroit metro area, did not know each other or Hebshi. They were forcibly removed from the flight as well and later cleared of any wrong-doing.

"I often think about what would have happened if my twin boys were with me," said Hebshi. "Every time I fly, I wonder if today is the day it's going to happen again."

The lawsuit seeks damages for "unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws." In addition to the TSA, the FBI, and Frontier Airlines, the complaint also names ICE and CBP as defendants.

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold told the AP shortly after the incident that because the flight occurred on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously."

"The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not," said Berchthold.

The FBI's Detroit office declined comment on Hebshi's lawsuit when contacted by ABC News. Both the TSA and Frontier Airlines said they could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the Wayne County Airport Authority Police, also named in Hebshi's suit, said, "The Airport Authority has a long-standing policy of not discussing pending legal action with the media other than to say that given the information and circumstances Airport Authority Police followed protocol and acted appropriately in this matter."

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