EXCLUSIVE: Silicon Valley computer scientist speaks out about anti-Muslim sentiments aimed at him

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Salman Azhar says he has reached a breaking point. He took to social media Friday to complain about a series of incidents he characterized as anti-Muslim on three separate United Airlines flights. (KGO-TV)

Salman Azhar says he has reached a breaking point. He took to social media Friday to complain about a series of incidents he characterized as anti-Muslim on three separate United Airlines flights.

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Azhar, a computer scientist with a Ph.D. and Silicon Valley roots, teaches at an East Coast university and flies frequently. He normally remains passive and does not respond to provocation, but an incident as he was boarding a flight Thursday night has him speaking up.

As he tried to place a backpack in the overhead compartment over his first class seat, a flight attendant challenged him, asking for his boarding pass. So, he reached into a pocket for his smartphone, which had the electronic boarding pass.

The flight attendant's reaction surprised him. "He basically thought that I was trying to pull a weapon or something like that, even though I was past security, so there was no chance of anything like that happening, and he basically wouldn't allow me to sit in the seat."

Another flight attendant intervened and allowed Azhar to take his seat. However, a man whom Azhar believed to be an air marshal stood nearby most of the flight between Azhar and the cockpit door; the man even followed Azhar down the jetway after landing.

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Azhar believes it was an incident of anti-Muslim sentiment or suspicion. On an international flight in August, he got into a disagreement with a passenger, who later said, "That's why we kill people like you."

On yet another flight, a passenger placed her shoes on Azhar's seat, using what he considered a rude tactic, instead of discussing it with him.

Azhar believes the President's anti-Muslim tweets give license to others with similar views to act aggressively toward others.

"Now I feel they feel liberated, and they feel like they're licensed to air out these grievances, and as long as someone is Muslim-looking or has a Muslim name, they feel that they can do that," Azhar said.

He does not blame United per se, but he does think some sensitivity training might be needed. He also would like to see fellow Muslims join him in speaking out when they are unfairly targeted.

ABC7 News contacted United's headquarters in the Chicago area. They offered this statement: "We're concerned to hear of our customer's experience, and are in touch with him to better understand what happened," said Erin Benson of United media relations.2724259/

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