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American Muslim woman files suit over search at O'Hare

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- An American Muslim woman from Ohio has filed suit against the Illinois National Guard and a security firm over what she described as an illegal and degrading search during a security check at O'Hare Airport last autumn.

"I felt as though the security personnel had singled me out because I didn't belong, wasn't trusted and wouldn't be welcomed in my own country," said Samar Kaukab, 22, a Pakistani-American of Columbus.

Named in the suit are Maj. Gen. David Harris, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard; an unidentified Illinois National Guardsman; Argenbright Security Inc.; and three Argenbright Security personnel. The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

It is the ACLU's first lawsuit in what it claims have been about 100 cases of airport discrimination against Muslims since the September terrorist attacks, The Associated Press reported.

CNN affiliate WFLD reports on the discrimination case (January 17)

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The suit says that the search violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of freedom of religion, freedom from unlawful ethnic and religious discrimination and protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The ACLU said Kaukab's religion was evident because she was wearing a traditional head covering for Muslim women known as a hijab.

Kaukab is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and wants the defendants to submit a plan to the court that will "ensure that discriminatory surveillance, stops, detentions, requests for consent to search and searches do not continue in the future."

The incident took place November 7, when Kaukab had been traveling home from a Volunteers in Service to America conference in Chicago. She works for VISTA in Columbus.

In a synopsis of the complaint, posted on its Web site, the ACLU said that Kaukab was removed from a group of airline passengers and subjected to repeated and increasingly invasive searches based on her ethnicity and her religion.

The complaint said a metal detector had raised no alarm and there was no indication either before or during the search that she was carrying any banned materials.

On instructions from a National Guardsman, "a security employee repeatedly passed a handheld metal detector over Ms. Kaukab's body... . In addition, the security employee patted Ms. Kaukab's upper body and pulled at the straps and hook on her bra," the ACLU said.

A security employee, again acting on instruction from a Guardsman, demanded that Kaukab remove her hijab.

The complaint said Kaukab told "security personnel that she could not remove the hijab in public, but would be willing to do so in a private location and only in the company of women. She made it clear that this was not an attempt to be uncooperative, but was necessary as part of her religious beliefs.

"After a further conversation with the National Guardsman, the security employee repeated the demand that the hijab be removed in public." She continued to refuse.

Kaukab was escorted to a small office area adjacent to the security checkpoint after further discussions between the security personnel and the National Guardsman.

"Despite repeated objections from Ms. Kaukab, the male employee insisted on entering the small room with her and conducting the search. After Ms. Kaukab again asserted her religious beliefs and requested that a woman conduct any search involving the removal of her hijab, the male security employee finally acceded to her request and she entered the private area with two female employees.

"Once the hijab had been removed, one of the security personnel ran her fingers through Ms. Kaukab's hair and over her scalp. The security employee then felt around her neck and collarbone, opened her sweater and felt around her chest and breasts and felt up and down her legs on the outside of her pants. The security employee then unbuttoned and unzipped Ms. Kaukab's pants, opened her pants and patted down her lower abdomen and between her legs over her underwear."

The ACLU said in its complaint that security personnel did not find any contraband in its searches.

In an ACLU statement, Kaukab was quoted as saying, "Nothing like this ever happened to me before. When it was over, I went to the restroom to gather my emotions and telephoned my mother. I was just so humiliated."

The Illinois National Guard said Thursday it will comment on the suit after it reviews the document. Argenbright could not be reached for comment.




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