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'Keep quiet, they kept saying'

The detainees ? most of them from Mumbai ? described what happened in the cabin of NW0042 on Wednesday.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2006 02:02 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents

The 12 Indian passengers who were detained for “suspicious” behaviour at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport over Wednesday and Thursday, returned to India on Saturday morning with their side of the story.

The detainees — most of them residents of Jogeshwari — described what happened in the cabin of NW0042 on Wednesday morning.

“We were exhausted by the time we boarded at Schiphol,” said Imran Yusuf. “We had gone to attend two events in Trinidad and Tobago, and the return involved flying three legs,” his brother Salman said.

Ayub Kolsawala explained the group had already flown over 10 hours to reach Schiphol. “We took a 20-minute flight from Port of Spain to Tobago, and then flew 10 hours from Tobago to Amsterdam.”

On the flight to Mumbai, the group had seats in the second-last row, and the last row was almost empty. “Some of us decided to sleep,” said Shaqeel Usman Chhotani. “It's not true that we didn't fasten our seatbelts. We did.” Others in the group wanted to chat, however, so they traded places, and “there was some movement,” said Salman.

“Two of my friends who wanted to sleep gave me their cellphones,” said Abdul Qadir Champalwala. “One of us wanted to use the laptop, so we gave him the machine. Some of us were talking. We had no idea all of this was being watched with suspicion.”

“Once the flight landed, three sky marshals escorted us out, handcuffed us and took us into the airport,” Chhotani said. “We were made to sit separately and asked not to talk. Our phones and the laptop were seized. We kept asking them what was wrong; the answer was ‘Keep quiet’,” said Farooq Hasham, Imran's father-in-law. Forty-five minutes later, they were taken to “isolated cells”.

“Over the next two days, we were questioned — though not tortured,” Chhotani said. “It was very difficult.”

Their cellphones have still not been returned. “It was a misunderstanding that cost us our freedom temporarily,” said Champalwala. “We’ve learnt a lesson and will be more careful now.”

First Published: Aug 27, 2006 02:02 IST