Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb, both 22, were on the Monarch airlines jet at Malaga airport waiting to return home to Manchester, England, when the captain asked them to leave the aircraft. The two friends were escorted off by armed security officials.

The pair told the Daily Mirror newspaper on Wednesday that they were surprised at their treatment but sympathised with the passengers who had got them thrown off the flight.

"These are nervous times and I can understand why people are so panicked," Ashraf told the newspaper. "All I would say is, don't be so paranoid. Don't ever judge a book by its cover."

Passengers had become suspicious when they heard the two speaking in what they thought was Arabic. They were actually speaking Urdu.

Safety fears

Several people refused to board the plane and others told the crew that they feared for their safety.

Zeb told the newspaper: "I wasn't that bothered about what happened, but when my father heard he hit the roof.

"He said, 'Why didn't they throw all the passengers off instead of you? If they didn't want to travel, they should have been left behind'."

In a statement shortly after the incident, Monarch said: "The captain was concerned about the security surrounding the two gentlemen on the aircraft and the decision was taken to remove them from the flight for further security checks."

Group 'outraged'

A spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) said the organisation was "outraged" when it heard about the incident and was seeking an explanation and an apology from Monarch Airlines.

"This is very alarming. These reports can incite more similar incidents once they appear in the media," she told Aljazeera.net.

"People can be nervous, but it doesn't warrant this kind of response," she said.

The incident is just one of several where Muslims have been removed from flights since the reports of the alleged plot to attack airliners out of Heathrow.

Formal complaint

Amar Ashraf, an airline pilot from North Wales, has said he will lodge a formal complaint with Continental Airlines – a partner of the airline he works for - after he was taken off a transatlantic flight just before take-off.

Ashraf said he felt "demoralised and humiliated" after being told to leave the flight from Manchester to Newark by a stewardess.

In Denver, Dr Ahmed Farooq, a radiologist from Canada, was escorted off a United Airlines flight after passengers overheard him reciting prayers. He called the incident "institutionalised discrimination".

MPAC says it is worried these incidents could escalate leading to Muslim passengers not just on planes, but also on buses and trains, being treated with suspicion.