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Mistaken for Terrorist

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"They thought you guys were terrorizers!"

A character is mistaken for a terrorist while acting suspiciously, usually in an airport or on a plane. Most of the time it's a misunderstanding. Something or other will be Mistaken for Evidence. (For example, the suspect will say something like "This party is gonna be the bomb!")

This trope has existed for decades as the examples below will show, but it took off in popularity post-9/11 on American television in particular, with a more specific plot outline: A One-Shot Character is introduced who is Middle Eastern and/or Muslim—or just assumed to be, perhaps overlapping with Interchangeable Asian Cultures and All Muslims Are Arab. The majority of the cast welcomes this new character with open arms, except for one. He's convinced that this new character is a terrorist, and will do whatever it takes to show the rest of the cast that his suspicions are correct. In doing so he invades the new character's privacy, and eventually learns An Aesop about being considerate of other cultures.

Unfortunately, this is Truth in Television (Real Life examples might double the page length or more). A number of people on airline flights have been discriminated against, including being forced off the plane, because the other passengers or pilots panicked and thought they were terrorists just based on their appearance or misunderstood actions (and there are reports of some who invoke this trope to test the waters or make it harder to find the ones with bombs). Hindus and especially Sikhs have to deal with this too.

This trope can be viewed as an updated version of Mistaken for Spies, reflecting how the "enemy" changed between the Cold War and The War on Terror.


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    Alternate Reality Games 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The police in EX-ARM keep a close eye on Akira because of the massive attack that happened in 2020. Him looking exactly like the perpetrator and being an Amnesiac Hero makes the concerns reasonable, though it eventually gets cleared up.
  • High School Dx D: Arjuka Beelzebub, one of the Four Great Satans, is accused of being one in Volume 6 as a direct result of Diadora Astaroth's actions and Diadora joining the Khaos Brigade.
  • In Moonlight Mile, Malik suffers from racism based on anti-Arab stereotypes when all he wants to do is build model rockets as a hobby.
  • Early on in One-Punch Man, Saitama gets mistaken for being a member of the Paradise Group due to his bald head (all of the Paradisers are bald or shaved their heads, to copy the appearance of their leader Hammerhead). Cue scared civilians misidentifying Saitama as a "terrorist", much to his frustration. Even Speed-o'-Sound Sonic mistakes Saitama for a Paradiser, and then attempts to fight him due to Sonic having been hired to eliminate the entire organization.

  • Russell Peters has a routine where he describes his experiences of being an Indian-looking man trying to fly right after 9/11. He describes a man freaking out and screaming "OH MY GOD, NO!" when Russell attempts to pull something out of his bag.
    Quite down, man! It's just my headphones! ...[Beat]...gotta listen to my instructions."
  • In the "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour", Maz Jobrani shows how easy it is to be mistaken for a terrorist by saying "This party is going to be a blast" in his natural American accent and then repeating it in a Middle Eastern accent.

    Comic Books 
  • Green Lantern: This is the origin of Simon Baz. He was just a low-level car thief who, at random, picked a car with a bomb in it. When he was pulled over, of course, the cops jumped to the conclusion the Lebanese-American was a terrorist. As it happened, he got a Green Lantern ring and was able to prove the real bomber was the car's owner... a suburban white man who was a member of a Neo-Nazi force. To his credit, the head agent apologizes to Simon and notes that if he was a real terrorist, he A) would be using the ring for destruction and B) the ring would never have picked him in the first place.
  • A variation occurs in a Dork Tower strip with a "radical" "extremist" "black panther" named Huey. He's a white guy wearing a black furry panther costume.
  • Happens in the November 2011 issue of Knights of the Dinner Table when the group plays a real-life based Zombie Apocalypse game of Screams of Kachuloo. Brian's frequent Internet searches for bomb-making and the layout for the local mall (for the game) throws up red flags with Homeland Security. A more experienced member of the department sees that the address is in gamer-heavy Muncie, Indiana and calls off the team. They've been burned there before many times...
  • Happens to a young Arabian man in a issue of Power Girl as the plane he is in starts to fall from the sky as he uses his super powers to save the plane and its passengers. He mentions that the reason he never used his powers before was because he knew they would consider him a terrorist. Even worse, the government keeps him locked up (even disallowing him the chance to visit his dying father) because they want to set a precedent for a super-powered terrorist, and him bursting out of detention to see his father would do just that. Batman makes sure that this ends up being exposed in the end, however.
  • Ms. Marvel (2014): Kamala Khan doesn't want to go public with her superhero identity because she fears this could happen to her friends, family, and mosque.
  • An entire issue of Dylan Dog is based on the idea of a high school student named Ahmed being mistaken for a suicidal bomber because of his Middle Eastern origins and having his high school project in a suitcase (that his teacher declared a bomb without even looking inside the case) — and not noticing the panic because that day he forgot his glasses at home and everyone he tries to ask runs at the supposed terrorist, with the police and the British Army missing three actual terrorists because they were busy searching for Ahmed. In a variant, the reader too is led to mistake him for a terrorist, as Ahmed is first seen playing a video game based on the 9/11 attacks, and it's only when Dylan (who has met his parents while searching for him) tells him what's happening that it is clear that he's not.
  • The Chronicles of Wormwood one-shot The Last Enemy features a back-up story where two men face the wrath of vengeful mobs because of their unfortunate punny names, one being named Pete O'Fyle and the other being named Al Kyda.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The plot of Beavis and Butt-Head Do America revolves around the titular duo having a biological weapon dumped into their lap by a pair of real terrorists, Muddy and Dallas, causing this trope to go into full effect throughout the film as the ATF suspects them of being terrorist masterminds. All the while, the two of them (being, well, Beavis and Butt-Head) are too stupid to realize what's happening, and think that the cross-country quest Dallas is sending them on to bring the weapon to Washington, D.C. is, in fact, a Quest for Sex. Their stupidity later causes a different character, their next-door neighbor Tom Anderson, to be mistaken for a terrorist himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, we see a POV Shot from a little old lady on the plane and Kumar looks like a terrorist — turban, beard, Evil Laugh. Then he lights up a bong in the restroom and people think he's got a stick of dynamite. He even says "it's only a bong" and people mistake him for saying "bomb."
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back; the jewel thieves set Jay and Bob up as animal rights terrorists.
  • My Name is Khan features a main character named Rizwan Khan, a Muslim American with Asperger's Syndrome living in post 9-11 America. He says to another character that he wants to tell the President, and the people, of the United States that his "name is Khan and that [he] is not a terrorist." When he repeats this to himself in a crowd gathered to meet President Bush, he is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured as a terrorist suspect. A Harsher in Hindsight moment occurred when Shahrukh Khan, the actor who played Rizwan was detained by Immigration offers at Newark Airport on August 14, 2009 and questioned for two hours.
  • Invoked in Crank. Chev Chelios gets revenge on an obnoxious taxi driver by dragging him out of his vehicle, then pointing at him and yelling "Al Qaeda!" Everyone in the street immediately dogpiles the man and beats him up.
  • In the 2008 film of Get Smart, when Maxwell is trying to scrape gum off his shoe with a match, the plane passengers mistake it for a shoe-bomb. He says it's just Gum, which is misheard as Gun.
  • In Meet the Parents, after all the crap he has dealt with throughout the film, Greg snaps at a flight attendant who told him he had to check his bag because it was too large to fit in the overhead storage unit because part of the reason things had gone sour for him was due to the airline losing his bag earlier. When the attendant insists, he goes on to grasp his bag and insist there isn't a bomb in it, which of course frightens the attendant and all the passengers, leading to him getting forcibly removed from the plane. The only reason he avoids getting arrested is because the father of his girlfriend, who had been the cause of his misery for most of the film, finally decided to lighten up and bail him out.
  • In Flightplan (2005), Kyle Pratt mistakenly accuses a Middle Eastern man of kidnapping her daughter. He is later shown to have nothing to do with the girl's disappearance.
  • In The Dictator, Admiral-General Aladeen and his minion have an innocuous conversation while on a helicopter tour of New York, but the various snippets of English words they use (like miming the explosion of fireworks while talking about the Statue of Liberty or talking about the "Porche 911 2012") convince the tourists that they're terrorists. Which raises the question: Can a character be "mistaken" for a terrorist if he does actively aid and abet terrorists?
  • In Abbott and Costello Buck Privates Come Home, Slicker and Herbie apply for a bank loan for their friend's midget race car. When demonstrating the model of the car, Herbie starts it in reverse, causing it to backfire, making it look like they were robbing the bank with a machine gun.
  • Inside Man: After the bank robbers release one of the hostages, a dark-skinned man in a turban. The cops jump all over him yelling about Islamic terrorists despite him not resisting and frantically insisting that he's A) a Sikh, not a Muslim, and B) a hostage, not a terrorist.
    • The man later bitterly complains to a detective about being constantly mistaken for a terrorist. The cop, played by Denzel Washington, points out that at least the man can hail a cab.
  • Die Hard:
    • The FBI mistake John McClane for a terrorist near the end of the film. He's trying to get the hostages off the roof before it explodes, and since he's the one wielding the submachine gun at them, Special Agent Johnson opens fire on him.
      John: I'm on your side, you assholes!
    • Hans Gruber, meanwhile, invoked this deliberately. He and his heist crew pretended to be Western Terrorists demanding the release of foreign fighters in exchange for the hostages in order to disguise their true intention to rob Nakatomi Plaza, and the FBI's handling of the crisis like a terrorist situation played right into their hands.
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash. When Whoopi Goldberg's character flees the spies holding her prisoner inside the British Embassy, a female staff member assumes she's a terrorist because she's brandishing a gun. "Do you want a hostage? I've been trained to be a hostage."
  • In The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Toby sees robed figures hiding in the gypsy camp and thinks they are the terrorists the police are looking for, and becomes convinced that he is going to be executed. They are really illegal refugees from Morocco who are hiding from the authorities.
  • The 2009 indie film Amreeka, Muna and Fhadi Farah, a mother and son, move from the West Bank to Indiana with some relatives. The film takes place a few months after 9-11, as a result the, mostly White, townspeople view them with suspicion, and Muna's brother in-law, once a successful general practitioner has seen a great reduction in business. Worse still, at school, Fahdi and his cousins are constantly harassed by a bully who leads the other students in calling Fhadi and his relatives terrorists. Things come to ahead when the bully and his friends go to the White Castle where Muna has been working and makes fun of her and Fhadi, when she chases them out, she slips and hurts her back. When Fhadi goes to confront him, they get into a fight and tussle on the ground, which the bully ends by yelling "terrorist!" at the top of his lungs and Fhadi gets arrested. When Muna goes to the station to pick him up, the only reason the police let him go, and don't notify Homeland Security that they have possible terrorist suspect is because Fhadi's (Jewish) high school principal, whom Muna begged for help, angrily yells at the police station captain that the whole incident was nothing more than a fist fight between two teenage boys who dislike one another, not some nefarious attempt against America.
  • In Pan's Labyrinth, Captain Videl's men capture to poachers, a father and son, and suspect they may be rebels against the regime. When the son tries to protest his father's innocents, Videl smacks him in the face with a bottle before eventually shooting them both out of boredom and pleasure. When it's revealed that the two men were innocent, rather than feel regretfully, Videl instead chastises his men for wasting his time and tells them to make sure they find actual rebels next time.
  • The Pink Panther (2006):
    • Inspector Clouseau goes through airport security with a hamburger in his pocket, causing a bomb-sniffing dog to approach him. He tries to explain it's just a hamburger, not realizing they can't understand his accent, and they search his bags to find it's full of weapons planted by the killer.
    • An alternate Deleted Scene shows Clouseau successfully boarding the plane, and he's stuck in his comically terrible seat in the far back of the plane. He orders some sushi for his in-flight meal. Cue the sushi being sneezed on by half a dozen people as it's carried all the way back to him, which he then eats blissfully unaware. Needless to say, it doesn't sit well with him, and the only lavatory in the front of the plane occupied. However, he chooses the worst possible way to phrase "hurry up" while standing next to a plane cockpit:
      "Open up, or I am going to explode!"


  • Adrian Mole: In the second book, Adrian's Irish neighbour Mr. O'Leary makes a brief return to his home country to vote in the national elections, but on his return is detained at the airport on suspicion of being an IRA member. Fortunately, things are cleared up quickly, and he's warned not to bring Action Man accessories into the country again...
  • Chillingly deconstructed in James L Grant's short story The Last Flight: An Indian airline passenger is harassed continually before and during his flight, while the blond, blue-eyed, All-American guy in the seat next to him...
  • Fate/strange Fake: When Saber blows up an opera house while fighting False Assassin, the destruction is mistaken for a terrorist attack, so Saber and his Master Ayaka Sajyou get arrested for it.
  • The Reveal near the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the better known examples predating The War on Terror, as the book was published two years before 9/11 and focuses on Lord Voldemort's army of Fantastic Terrorists known as Death Eaters. We learn earlier in the novel that the title character, named Sirius Black, was sent to Azkaban twelve years ago for leaking the location of Harry's parents to Voldemort (who proceeded to kill them) and for destroying his pursuer, a former friend named Peter Pettigrew, in an explosion that also killed a dozen Muggles. When finally apprehended, all he did was laugh at the carnage he'd apparently caused. But it turns out that Peter betrayed the Potters and subsequently invoked this trope. When Sirius hunted him down for revenge, Peter faked his own death by causing the aforementioned explosion and cutting off his own finger before turning into a rat and fleeing down a drain. Sirius was madly laughing, in truth, because he was distraught to the point of incoherence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order:
    • One episode played with this: a family of Italian Americans considered their son's Muslim girlfriend's family potential terrorists. The girlfriend's family thought of her boyfriend's family as Mafiosi. Both lovers end up being murdered.
    • Another episode had two detectives invoke this trope intentionally on a pair of uncooperative Iranian nationals who refuse to cooperate with an investigation (they happen to work for the Embassy and can't be forced to answer questions or be charged for impeding). The police resort to basically planting a camera filled with what would appear to be photos scouting a target for a terrorist attack in NYC. The District Attorney is not amused when he has to deal with the fallout from the State Department over the matter, but he and the police officers involved never face any lasting consequences over the incident.
  • How I Met Your Mother uses the alternate version of this trope. Barney and Ted leave suitcases at the luggage carousel, then purchase tickets to Philadelphia. While they only do this in a failed attempt to pick up girls, security has a hard time believing that.
  • There was a Degrassi: The Next Generation episode where Hazel was harassing a Muslim girl, even going and telling her to her face "Terrorist chic? So not in," in reference to her hijab. Paige calls her out on it, and she ends up prime suspect when someone vandalizes the Muslim girl's locker. Turns out Hazel is herself Somali and Muslim, and she was doing it precisely for this reason.
  • 30 Rock: Liz Lemon grasses up an Arab man to Homeland Security when she glimpses maps on the wall of his apartment and sees him running through an obstacle course. Turns out he was in training for The Amazing Race.
  • An episode of Wings had a few of the guys taking the plane for a trip only to end up landing in the middle of a cornfield. At one point Antonio (played by Lebanese-American Tony Shalhoub, though the character is Italian) goes exploring the field to look for help and comes back with the farmer behind him... with his hands raised while a shotgun is pointed at him.
    Antonio: Joe, please explain to the nice man with the gun that I am not a Libyan terrorist.
  • From the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie Amaar is talking to his mom over the cellphone at the airport. With this dialogue, it's somewhat understandable they were mistaken:
    "I don't care if dad thinks this is suicide. I'm on a mission from god. It's not like I dropped a bomb on him"
  • Without a Trace, "In Extremis." A Saudi Arabian doctor goes missing, and a lot of people automatically assume he's a terrorist. As it turns out, some of his acquaintances are, but he's trying to stop them. He's killed by a FBI sniper at the end of the episode as soon as they get a clear shot. He was heard talking about blowing up a building by a passing woman, but he is actually talking about how the home stadium of the sports team he's talking about should be demolished because they never win.
  • 24 has two rather tragic examples on Day 2. Reza Nair is the biggest example - CTU initially suspects him of financing terrorist operations, although it turns out he's being framed by his white, blonde, all-American fiancee, who turns out to be the real terrorist. She murders Reza when he finds out. Later in the season, Yusef Auda is an intelligence agent from the Middle East who initially seems like an untrustworthy character but ends up as a fairly awesome ally for Jack Bauer... only to get beaten to death by angry racist Americans who do, in fact, mistake him for terrorist.
    • In Day 7, a Middle Eastern man is set up as a patsy for a bioterrorist attack by two Americans. Jack doesn't see through it at first, but in the end he's able to both thwart the attack and determine who the real terrorists are.
  • In an episode of Titus the titular character was on a plane with his family after his mother's funeral. Mimicking a real life epiphany Christopher had years earlier, he caused a commotion that worried the other passengers. It didn't help when over-indulgent Dave came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his head and Tommy on his knees shouting "Allah" "a la king" (he was correcting a steward's grammar regarding a chicken dish).
  • Cam from Bones has freaked out over the suspicion that Arastoo is a terrorist twice. Despite knowing he has served as a translator for the US Military in Iraq. The first time her fear was a little understandable, but the second after she supposedly learned her lesson from the first?
  • In an episode of Chuck involving Chuck choosing new Intersect agents, one of the candidates looked Middle Eastern and had a large beard, and also happened to be an explosives expert. He signed up to be an Intersect agent because was not happy about being constantly assigned to be The Mole in terrorist organizations and was sick to death of being surrounded by nothing but sand all the time.
    • Subverted when he actually turns out to be a traitor and working with the terrorists.
  • An entire subplot of Friends episode "The One Where Rachel Tells Ross" was to have Monica and Chandler at the airport where Chandler sees a sign about "never make jokes about bombs" and, being Chandler, has to make a joke which leads to him and Monica spending time in an interrogation room. They're cleared when Monica gets a phone call about Phoebe in their apartment and sarcastically says "no, just wait for the place to blow up!" She hangs up to see the agents staring and with sighs, they march back into the room. The storyline was dropped, and all the Chandler and Monica scenes reshot, as the episode was due to air mere weeks after 9/11.
  • One of Lost's many flashbacks showed Sayid being investigated by airport security because he is a Middle Eastern man who briefly left his bag unattended. Fortunately, the matter is cleared up quickly and he is cleared of any suspicion. Interestingly, another flashback revealed that at one point he was part of a terrorist cell but was actually The Mole for a US-Australian anti-terrorist task force. As a former Iraqi Republican Guard member he had the perfect credentials to infiltrate such a cell and the US government offered to reunite him with Nadia if he helped them stop a terrorist attack in Australia.
  • JAG has an inverted example predating 9/11. In 6th season episode "Valor", Sergeant Joan Steele was found with terrorists attempting to sabotage a US warship in the vein of the attack on the USS Cole. It is unclear whether Steele was kidnapped and succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome or was a Military Maverick on a mission of her own trying to stop the terrorists. It turns out to be the latter, as she was killed in an explosion stopping them.
  • On The Mindy Project in the episode "Harry & Mindy", Mindy (who is Indian) reveals that every year on Valentine's Day she goes to the Empire State Building to hope that she meets that special someone. She walks around the line to go in taking notes. The building security interrogates her and assumes that she plans to blow up the building, because of her ambiguous answers that are actually about romance. She doesn't catch on until Homeland Security walks into the room.
    Mindy: I'm here to meet that special someone, and when I do, we're going to go to the top and then BOOM! Fireworks.
  • In Downton Abbey, when an important general is dining at Downton Abbey in Season 2 during the war, Tom Branson hatches a plot to attack him with something concealed inside a soup tureen. When the other staff catch onto his plan, they assume that he has a gun or a bomb and intends to murder the general. Instead, the tureen contains ink, engine oil, cow excrement and other icky substances to render the general Covered in Gunge. Branson is politically involved in The Irish Revolution, but appears to be an Actual Pacifist in his execution.
  • Community - Abed becomes a person of interest to the Secret Service when he spots them incognito before a visit from the Vice-President. The agent in charge continues the investigation after it's clear he's no threat because she's attracted to him.
  • An episode of NCIS: Los Angeles has the team investigate an Arab-American former Marine, and an Iraq War vet, no less, as a suspect in the case of the week. He's completely innocent.
  • A Blue Bloods episode has this happen to a Sikh-American surgeon by an NYPD beat cop. The Sikh takes umbrage and resists arrest, breaking the officer's nose. Cue political mess when he counters the assaulting an officer charge by suing the department for discrimination. Frank smooths things over by having the D.A. drop charges and arranging for the officer in question to make a personal apology.
  • Stargate SG-1: In the season 10 episode "Bad Guys", SG-1 goes through a stargate that turns out to be housed inside a museum with a party going on in the main lobby. The guests immediately think the heavily armed heroes are part of a terror group on their planet, and they end up having to take everyone hostage until they can figure out a way to get back home.
  • The Jeffersons: When Lionel is turned down for a loan, George goes to the bank to cosign without Lionel's knowledge, only for Louise to walk into the bank to do the same. George hides behind a pillar, then goes to the counter and opens his briefcase to hide his face. When the teller asks if he was making a deposit, he says he's not there to put money into the bank, she thinks he's a bank robber and screams not to shoot while dumping wads of cash into his briefcase, which prompts the security guard to hold George at gunpoint.
  • In Engine Sentai Go-onger's 10 Years Grand Prix movie, the Go-ongers believe Hiroto attempted a suicide bombing to assassinate Minister Noizumi, and was killed. He was actually trying to publicly talk Noizumi out of raising the Isolation Barrier, only to be caught up in an explosion when BearRV crash-landed to earth, and ended up on Junk World; then couldn't get back, due to the barrier having been raised.
  • Roseanne. In the re-vamp episode "Go Cubs," Roseanne believes that her new Muslim neighbors are terrorists after seeing a bunch of bags of fertilizer on their front lawn and thinks that they are going to use it to make a bomb. She learns later on that they have a lot of bags because the husband ordered them off of Amazon and clicked the buy button one too many times. Roseanne soon has a change of heart about them, and even defends the wife after she gets harassed by a racist cashier at the grocery store.
  • In one episode of The Good Doctor, Shaun believes that his latest patient, a young Muslim woman with severe burns on her arm, is a terrorist who got the burns while creating a chemical weapon.
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of the short-lived Matt Frewer sitcom Shaky Ground. The main character tries to get then-President Bill Clinton to sign a petition for his son's school and ends up tackled to the ground by the Secret Service after he walks up to them, puts his hand in his jacket and says "I've got something for the President!"
  • In the short lived Aliens in America happened twice to Raja, the Pakistani foreign exchange student. The first time, when he finds out that Justin, the son of his host family, started a rocketry club without intent to do do any actual rocketry (Justin and his friends used it as an excuse to hang out without participating in extracurricular activity) Raja goes to a hardware store to shop for supplies to build a rocket. Going shopping in his traditional Muslim attire, he gets arrested, and the family gets investigated for harboring a potential terrorist. Once they're cleared of a all suspicions, the episode ends with the rocketry club building a rocket that accidentally takes out a racist cheerleader. The second time, the family wins a trip, and right before they were going to board the plane, Raj prays for a safe flight, and T.S.A. reacts by detaining them for questioning. They're cleared, but they miss the flight and the trip.
  • 7th Heaven:
    • One episode shortly after 9/11 had a case of Mistaken for Mistaken for Terrorist. A Muslim family had recently moved into town and they and the Camdens believed that the rest of the neighborhood was avoiding them because they were Muslim. It turns out the neighbors didn't even know they were Muslim. Then it veers into straight usage when the Camdens explain things to the neighbors, who briefly fear the new family before they manage to smooth things over.
    • In a later episode, Ruthie was delayed at the airport because, as her mother pointed out, she'd changed her ticket at the last minute. Ruthie was frustrated at the inconvenience and made sarcastic comments like "I'm clearly an Al Qaeda agent. Codename: Curly Top." Other passengers complained, and she was brought in for an interrogation.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Played for Laughs when Boyle wants to cook a goat stew to welcome Detective Pimento back to the Nine Nine, in the precinct break room. He wanted to make the Turkmenistani dish as authentic as possible, even ordering the pressure cooker from Turkmenistan. The pressure cooker exploded.
    Boyle: Everything is authentic - I even ordered the pressure cooker from Turkmenistan.
    Amy: So you're on a terrorist watchlist now?
    Boyle: Oh yeah, Homeland Security's been to my house, yup.
  • In one episode of ALF, the titular alien, concerned with nuclear war,note  calls the Presidential party to voice his concerns. Unfortunately, he isn't clear on his point and sounds like he's making threats to use bombs, resulting in Willie getting arrested.
  • Invoked a couple of times in The Wire. Once, the FBI agent Fitz does a favor to the Major Crimes Unit by fast tracking a wiretap on Stringer Bell by saying his first name was "Ahmed", and in season two, the Greks pay back their FBI mole for warning them about being investigated by arranging a truck full of crack be seized in customs, implicating their Colombian contacts who stifed them on a payment, claiming they are Narco-terrorist, which Spiros does tell the Greek they are not.
  • Derry Girls: when the girls are on their way to a consert without a permission from their parents, Michelle has brought along a big suitcase full of booze. Unfortunately their nun teacher, Sister Michael is on the same bus, and when she notices the suitcase, asks whose is it. Panicking, the girls say they don't know. Unfortunately, an unatended suitccase in a bus during The Troubles causes Sister Michael to stop the bus and call the bomb squad, who detonate the suitcase.

  • During their 2003 Yanqui U.X.O. tour in the US, this happened for real to the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor when they stopped for fuel in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The station attendant working that day assumed they were terrorists, and got another customer to call the police. The cops were suspicious of the band due to their possession of anti-government documents and photos of oil rigs, communication towers, etc. After running a background check, all was well and they were released. The band sometimes joke about the incident at shows.
  • Maybe it's a Post-Rock thing, as Explosions in the Sky were also once mistaken for terrorists, owing to the extremely unfortunate coincidental timing between the release of their album, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever and the September 11th attacks. You see, the album, conceived and recorded well before September 11th, has a picture of an airplane captioned "This plane will crash tomorrow" as part of its cover art. This, coupled with rumors that the album was released on September 10th (it was actually released in late August,) and probably not helped by the fact that their guitarist is of Pakistani heritage, was enough to get their bassist briefly detained at an airport as a potential security threat.
  • This happened to Peter Gabriel, of all people, on his first solo tour. Gabriel and his band were detained in Switzerland in 1977 after being mistaken for members of the Baader-Meinhof gang on their first tour on their way to a gig in France. They'd pulled off the road to make a phone call to the promoter to inform them they would be late, but ended up later than they planned after locals saw bassist Tony Levin's wife dressed in Army fatigues and Gabriel wearing a black scarf. The bag of cash the band had on the bus only aroused suspicion, and their gear traveled in a second truck, which didn't help their case. The Swiss police finally let them go hours later and they managed to still play the show.
  • Stiff Little Fingers sent their demo tape to several labels, and as a joke about the british term for cluster munitions "cassette bomb", added a picture of a bomb on the cassettes, which caused small panics, especially coming from a Northern Irish return address.
  • Stickers for the punk band This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb has caused several fans to be stopped by police.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • This was pretty much Muhammad Hassan's defining character trope. It didn't help matters when he started doing things like summoning men in ski masks to choke people with piano wire. Ultimately, the angle lead to him losing his job after one instance that took place on the same day as the 7/7 London bombings, and Hassan was taken out for good by The Undertaker after he dropped him through the stage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • If you've ever DMed a game of Shadowrun, go look through your Internet search history or your campaign notes one of these days.
  • Hunter: The Vigil: This is a concern for the hunter group Ahl al-Jabal, introduced in Ancient Bloodlines; they're an insular Muslim group who carry weapons and receive combat training in order to fight supernatural monsters, and are well aware of how this would appear to outsiders.

    Video Games 
  • At the beginning of inFAMOUS, Cole MacGrath is tricked into opening a mail package containing a powerful bomb-like weapon called the Ray Sphere; which produces an explosion that destroys a large portion of Empire City, killing tons of unlucky innocent people as a result. After information about Cole's (accidental) involvement in causing the Blast is revealed to the public, he is now feared and hated by almost everyone around him, as if he had intentionally committed mass murder. He even starts narrating with the line "Ever been called a terrorist?", while describing how he became scapegoated for the whole tragedy.

    Visual Novels 


    Web Original 
  • This short story from rec.humor.funny.
  • The "Ordinary Muslim Man" Image Macro meme concerns a Muslim man saying something that sounds anti-American and but is actually innocent, such as "Death to America... Online. I just signed up for DSL."
  • Weird school rules in Hong Kong: One of the strange rules featured in Episode 2 was that students weren't allowed to put their school-bags in the canteen without supervision because apparently the teachers were "afraid they were bombs placed down by terrorists".

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: "Homeland Insecurity" has the ultra-conservative Stan Smith assume that the new Iranian neighbors are terrorists. He turns his house into a detention camp where he puts the Iranians and eventually all of the other neighbors into captivity. A bit later, Stan mistakes himself for a terrorist when he finds his car crashed into the town's energy plant (it was actually Roger who drove it).
  • Archer: The title character assumes that a turbaned Middle-Eastern man is the suspect (just moments after dismissing the German with the eyepatch as "way too obvious"). It's pointed out that the guy is a Sikh.
    Archer: Oh, so if he's not a Muslim he just gets a pass? Well, that's called profiling, mother, and I don't do it.
  • Big Mouth: In "Everybody Bleeds", Jay, an aspiring magician of Middle Eastern descent, is captured by security guards during a field trip to the Statue of Liberty after they overheard and misunderstand his plan to "make the Statue of Liberty disappear". They later release him when impressed by his tricks.
  • King of the Hill: In "The Accidental Terrorist", Hank recruits a trio of teens to get back at an Honest John's Dealership for ripping him off, but when they blow up several cars, Hank is blamed because he was the only one who showed up in the security footage (due to the teens wearing black clothes and lying down on the pavement as camouflage).
  • Minoriteam: One episode features the group going on a trip in their civilian identities. The Indian Dave Raj, however, sleeps in, and is forced to transform into his super-powered self, Nonstop, and hop on his flying carpet to get to the airport on time. Nonstop wears a turban and has a long beard. You can probably figure out the rest on your own.
  • Mr. Magoo: In "The Explosive Mister Magoo", Magoo is outraged that the local paper ran his picture in the newspaper without his permission (it was actually a photo of a bowling ball) and goes to complain to the editor. On the way, he buys a wind-up toy (thinking it's a clock) from a street vendor, so when he presents himself to the receptionist, she notices the ticking package and thinks it's a time bomb. Magoo shouting things like "I'll blow this paper wide open!" doesn't help matters any.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Midnight Rx": Homer takes Ned Flanders and Apu (who is Hindu) across the border to Canada to pick up some medication. On the way back, Apu takes a sip of some very hot coffee, and burns his tongue. Ned then gives him a wet towel to wear around his head, which, combined with Apu's now unintelligible screams, gives the wrong impression to the border guards.
      Guard: Stop him! He's expressing his faith, eh!
    • "Mypods and Boomsticks": Homer assumes Bart's new Muslim friend and his parents are terrorists. It doesn't help that his father plans to blow up the Springfield Mall... after taking proper safety precautions to ensure nobody gets hurt by the controlled demolition he was contracted to perform.
    • "Homerland": Lisa suspects that Homer has been brainwashed when he starts acting polite, resists pork and beer, is seen making faux-Muslim prayers and takes a mysterious device in to the power plant. When Lisa and the FBI confront him, it turns out Homer was turned by eco-activists who convinced him to go vegetarian, went through an alcohol detoxication, was doing exercise on a rug they gave him (his "prayer" was "Ow, this rug hurts my knees"), and was doing a nonviolent attack on the power plant (stinking it up so badly that nobody would go there anymore; this failed because the plant doesn't have air conditioning).
  • South Park: In "The Snuke", Cartman automatically assumes that a new boy at school is a terrorist because he's Muslim. While there does turn out to be a terrorist plot going on in town, it's actually being done by Russian mercenaries working for the British government.


Video Example(s):


Terrorist Neighbor

Liz suspects her neighbor is a terrorist, but he's actually just training for a reality show.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / MistakenForTerrorist

Media sources: