YouTube star Adam Saleh made headlines on Wednesday when he accused Delta of kicking him off a flight for speaking Arabic over the phone to his mother — but now, eyewitnesses are disputing his claims.
Anthony Ellis, a passenger on the flight, told the Washington Post that he was seated a row in front of Saleh and his friend Slim Albaher, and heard them shouting while one of them was filming people’s reactions.
“He was never any part on the phone — I would have heard the whole conversation,” Ellis said, adding that he speaks Arabic. “If someone’s being racist, I would stand up right away. In this day in age, you defend each other. It wasn’t like that. I mean, this guy was trying to antagonize people. I think because they made it into such a big scenario, [Saleh] then kind of panicked a little bit.”
Another passenger on the flight took to social media to dispute Saleh’s claims, posting a picture of his boarding pass as proof.
“The YouTube guy was trying to get his friend to shout something in Arabic which he did a total of 4 times,” he posted, adding that neither Saleh nor Albaher was on a phone call. “A couple of passengers after the second time said they were making themselves and their young children uncomfortable and could they shut up.”
Another passenger who identified his seat and row on the plane wrote on Facebook that another passenger stated “she saw this man pump his fists in the air and say something in another language. She knows it was not ‘allahu akbar’ and that he was doing in a joking manner … She got so agitated that a crew member had to ask her to calm down. After she saw him to [sic] this the 2nd time she called a flight attendant.”
The passenger also claimed that another traveler “heard someone saying ‘um del lum lakum.’ He heard this a few times and he stated that ‘the guy was shouting it so I had to turn around and see what it was about.’ ‘I could tell that his friend was telling him what to say and he would repeat it. He told him how to say it and say it louder and he was pumping his fists in the air.'”
Those accounts were corroborated secondhand by still another Facebook user, who posted that his boyfriend, seated “directly in front of them,” reported that “the entire thing was planned. [Saleh] wasn’t on the phone with his mom speaking Arabic. He and his friends were shouting in Arabic with their fists balled up in the air. They were removed from the plane for being loud and disruptive, then started filming claiming they were victims. These guys aren’t victims, they are social media whores.”
In a video posted online Wednesday morning, Saleh claimed that he and his friend were kicked off the flight after other passengers complained that he was making them uncomfortable by speaking in Arabic while on the phone with his mother.
“It seriously made me cry. I travel a lot, and I never in a million years knew I would experience something like this. I speak to my mom every flight I go on, right before I leave, and my mom only speaks Arabic,” Saleh said in an interview with CBS.
On Wednesday, Soledad O’Brien called into question Saleh’s story.
“Soooo. I have a good friend on this flight right now … apparently woman sitting near my friend tipped off flight attendants he was a youtube star known for pranks, “O’Brien tweeted Wednesday morning. “Also people on plane disputing call to mom.”
The YouTube star has a history of posting prank videos that are designed to look real. In October, it was revealed that his viral video of a NYPD officer stopping and frisking a pair of Muslim men for wearing Islamic garments was a hoax. And last week, Saleh was called out for posting a fake video in which he allegedly sneaked onto a flight in a suitcase.
In a follow-up statement regarding the event on Wednesday afternoon, Delta said Saleh “sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting” after taking multiple eyewitness statements upon landing.
The company continued: “This type of conduct is not welcome on any Delta flight.”
A representative for Saleh has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.
Related stories from TheWrap: