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Dispute over airport breakroom leads to lawsuit

   |  Posted Jan 30th, 2008 @ 10:00pm



 

Sarah Dallof reporting

A shuttle driver has filed a complaint with the FAA against the Salt Lake International Airport, saying officials allowed thousands of religious services to be conducted on public property. Muslim cab drivers began praying in a small airport building used as a break room after 9-11, because, the airport says, they became targets, with people yelling at them and throwing things.

Last week we brought you the story of a Muslim cab driver at the airport who says he was assaulted when he tried to pray inside the building. Tonight the man charged in that case speaks out about his case against the airport.

Shuttle driver Jeff Brueningsen took photos inside the building he and other drivers share at the airport. "It was definitely an Islamic center." He said it didn't feel right, so he filed a complaint with the FAA against the airport.

"In proper, polite company you never bring up politics or religion. And they introduced both instantly into what's supposed to be a professional, secular transportation-aviation facility," Brueningsen said.

In the complaint he details claims that he was harassed by a group of Muslim drivers who he says have threatened to kill him. It came to a head earlier this month when Brueningsen says Mohammed Alahmed and other drivers attacked him.

"They were going like this, using their fingers, saying, ‘You F-ing Jew, you don't want us to pray here,'" Brueningsen says.

Alahmed says it was the other way around, that Brueningsen tried to stop him from praying. "He say the F word against me, and I didn't do anything. And he grabbed me from my shirt and hit me with his hand," Alahmed said.

Airport police investigated and charged only Brueningsen with assault. Shortly after, the airport closed the building, and Muslim drivers began praying outside.

No one was happy.

Cab driver Yuriy Artuyunyan says, "We cannot have breakfast, we cannot go to restroom, we cannot play chess."

Barbara Gann, with the Salt Lake International Airport, said, "There were some grave concerns over safety and possible escalating violence."

Airport officials say they never sanctioned prayers, but they never stopped them. Instead they trusted the drivers to be courteous and respectful to one another, a plan that didn't work.

Airport and city officials are meeting to decide what to do with the building. While they do that, Brueningsen isn't allowed to work on airport property.

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