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Did the Syrian Ambassador lie?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 30, 2004 05:18 PM

On July 26, the ambassador of Syria had an outraged letter published in the Washington Times regarding Northwest Flight 327:

I am responding to Audrey Hudson’s article “Scouting jetliners for new attacks” (Page 1, Thursday). We are shocked by this article. It only reflects paranoia verging on the point of hysterics. The woman mentioned most prominently in this article, Annie Jacobsen, is an advocate of ethnic profiling who survived a horrendous ordeal: a flight with 14 harmless Syrian musicians.

Your reporter failed to mention that the only “crimes” these professional musicians were accused of committing were going to the lavatory, eating McDonald’s food and talking to one another.

The fact that they have performed in the past six months in places such as the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School did not prevent Mrs. Jacobsen from saying, “[C]ouldn’t 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?”

The reporter for The Washington Times should have informed her readers that the whole story was a case of a group of talented musicians going to Los Angeles to play music, as simple as that.

Case closed? Not yet. Annie Jacobsen called the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha, to inquire more about the band and its performances. She reports in her latest article:

I called Dr. Moustapha to ask him if he had some kind of specific information about the “harmless” men on my flight. Perhaps, he, of all people, could clear some things up. What an opportunity! I thought. I’ve always maintained that if these 14 Syrians showed up on my doorstep and serenaded me, I’d still have some serious questions about their behavior at 30,000 feet. Remember, they themselves admitted to law enforcement in Los Angeles that they “acted suspiciously.”

Maybe Dr. Moustapha — of all people in the United States — with his long list of credentials and his diplomatic pull, might actually be able to get me in touch with these 14 members of Nour Mehana’s back-up band…Certainly Dr. Moustapha, a member of the Syrian team responsible for drafting reform strategies for the ministries of Culture, Education, and Higher Education, might be able to account for the behavior that I, other passengers, the flight crew and the federal air marshals found so disturbing.

After introductory pleasantries, I asked Dr. Moustapha why his letter suggested that these 14 Syrians played at the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and the Julliard School, when according to my research, that’s not at all the case.

Dr. Moustapha said Nour Mehana and his back-up band had not played there, but that other Syrian musicians had. I told Dr. Moustapha that his letter to The Washington Times was at best misleading, and at worst, completely misrepresenting the facts. I added that I didn’t consider doing so either diplomatic or fair.

Dr. Moustapha told me that I was a paranoid racist.

The saga continues…

Update: Washington Times reports “Second passenger saw suspicious behavior.” (Actually, wouldn’t it be “third passenger,” if you add the new account to Annie and Kevin Jacobsen’s?)

In any case, the new witness told the Times:

“I thought I was going to die…And that makes me furious because that’s the whole point of terrorism, to make people afraid. It makes me mad that they achieved that. But I’m not letting it stop me from taking other trips…”

The second (sic) passenger on Flight 327 said the men were “up and down the aisles of the plane the entire time,” and that one of the men pushed other passengers as he rushed toward the front lavatory…

The second passenger said she did not share her concerns with the flight attendants because “I thought I was just crazy, and I didn’t want to be the crazy person on the flight that stands up and says something is wrong, but I will now in the future. I praise Annie for what she did, because I didn’t have the guts to.”

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