A Spanish university professor with a long beard and dark complexion said Thursday he was briefly forced off an airliner during a layover on the Spanish island of Mallorca by passengers who feared he was an Islamic terrorist.
Pablo Gutierrez Vega told The Associated Press that he was humiliated when three German passengers on an Air Berlin flight approached him during a layover in Palma de Mallorca on Aug. 30 en route from Seville, Spain, to Dortmund, Germany, and asked to search his carry-on luggage.
The men told him that other passengers were frightened by his appearance, said Gutierrez Vega, a 35-year-old law professor at the University of Seville.
"We can't take justice into our own hands," Gutierrez Vega told the Spanish daily el País, "unless we want to return to living in caves."
The airline confirmed the incident to the AP and called it regretful.
"I acknowledged that we contributed to this man going through something very unpleasant," said Air Berlin's managing director for Spain and Portugal, Alvaro Middelmann.
"He (the pilot) allowed the passengers to take control of the plane," Gutierrez Vega told El País.
After realizing the men were not undercover police officers, Gutierrez Vega refused to hand over his luggage. The pilot then approached the group and led the professor to the runway so they could speak in private.
"The pilot said the passengers believed I was a Muslim," Gutierrez Vega told the AP.
On the runway, the pilot apologized for the incident and said he was willing to expel the passengers who confronted him and continue the flight with Gutierrez Vega on board. The pilot also said he could take Gutierrez Vega's luggage into the cockpit to pacify the other passengers.
Gutierrez Vega said he decided to get back on the plane and store his luggage in the cockpit "because I didn't want to cause any problems."
The pilot, however, erred by not ejecting the passengers who confronted him, Middelmann said.
Gutierrez Vega has hired an attorney to initiate legal proceedings against Air Berlin.