American Group Mistakes Malaysian Flag for US Flag with ISIS Symbols

Flag of Malaysia
Flag of Malaysia | © Eric Teoh/Flickr
Sam Bedford

A bizarre FBI investigation took place after a group of Malaysians were spotted flying their native flag. A Kansas resident somehow believed Malaysia’s flag was the United States flag desecrated with the ISIS insignia and reported their ‘suspicious activity’ to the authorities.

A Malaysian celebration goes wrong

Malaysian-born and US permanent resident Munir Zanial is a senior engineer at Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association (SBEA) in Wichita, Kansas. Deciding to host a party on September 2 to celebrate Eid al-Adha with 45 guests, he rented a lakeside property from his company. The Malaysians, of whom some were dressed in a hijab, decided to fly their flag. However, an act of national patriotism unbeknownst to Munir, a Wichita resident since 2011, became the start of a nightmare. He became the suspect in an FBI terrorism investigation.

The Malaysian flag

The basis of the investigation was a group of Malaysian’s flew their own flag honouring the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence, which took place few days earlier on August 31. The flag, or Jalur Gemilang in Bahasa Malaysia, features 14 alternating red and white stripes with a dark blue on the top left-hand corner. The Islamic half-moon crescent and a 14-pointed star representing each of Malaysia’s states sit inside this blue square.

This is where the situation began to take a bizarre twist. An American mistook Malaysia’s flag for that of the United States. The United States flag has 13 alternating red and white stripes and a blue left-hand corner but with 50 stars instead. The American mistook the Malaysians for terrorists holding a clandestine ISIS meeting. The party was reported as suspicious, which in turn led to an FBI investigation, as someone wrongly assumed the American flag had been superimposed with an ISIS flag.

Inconvenient mistake

The FBI investigation proceeded and quickly ended after it became apparent the suspicious flag in question was the national flag of Malaysia. Bemused Munir was inconvenienced and frustrated, but brushed it off. Or so he thought. A few months later in January 2018, Munir discovered his SBEA membership was suddenly restricted. It turns out, this was because the FBI wrongly investigated him on terrorism charges. Because of this, he is attempting to open a lawsuit against SBEA for racial, religious and ethnic discrimination. And apart from the distress and humiliation, he also fears this might somehow affect his permanent residence status in the United States.

The same colours you’ll see on a Malaysian flag
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article