Was July 4th Shootout At LAX An Al-Qaida Operation?
Jul 05, 2002
A gunman opened fire Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport while standing in line at the ticket counter of Israel's El Al Airlines, officials said, killing two and wounding four others before an airline security officer shot him dead.
Authorities identified the gunman as 41-year-old Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who came to the United States from Egypt in 1992 and had been living in Irvine, California, for the last two years.
Hadayet was not a U.S. citizen but had a "green card" that allowed him to work in the U.S., authorities said. The gunman's identity was obtained through fingerprints and records on file with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which had issued Hadayet a license to drive a limousine, the FBI said.
Hadayet's attack occurred on his birthday. According to his driver's license, he was born July 4, 1961. Hadayet was married with at least one child, authorities said.
"He was armed with a .45-caliber handgun which he used in the shooting, as well as a 9 mm handgun which he had on his possession," FBI spokesman Ron Iden said. "He also had in his possession what's described as a 6-inch knife." Hadayet was also carrying extra ammunition and magazines for the guns, according to FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin.
In addition, a car possibly connected to the gunman was found Thursday evening near the terminal where the shooting took place. An LAPD bomb squad examined the vehicle as a precaution, Iden said.
Federal, law enforcement and city officials said it appeared the shooting was an isolated incident, with nothing to suggest otherwise. "There is no indication of any terrorism connection in this matter right now, but again we also can't discount that until we know more," McLaughlin told reporters.
Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn added: "It appears this was an isolated incident." A Bush administration source concurred with that statement, adding that nothing suggested it was anything other than a criminal act.
Israeli officials view the incident differently.
"Though there is no clear-cut evidence that this gunman is related to a terror organization, it's the most logical assumption that when someone opens fire on an El Al counter in an international airport, most likely this is a terror attack," said Ephraim Sneh, Israeli transportation minister. "We have warnings that these terrorist organizations [will] try to hit Israeli and Jewish targets all over world so we have no reason to assume that this is something different than a terrorist attack," Sneh said.
Attacker stabs security officer before being slain
Zvi Vapni, the Israeli deputy consul general, said El Al's chief security officer, Haim Sapir, tried to stop the gunman. The gunman stabbed Sapir, and the security chief then fatally shot the suspect, Vapni said.
Iden gave the FBI's account of the incident:
"Two El Al security guards confronted the subject along with a private citizen who was in the area and began to subdue him. The subject was shot and died at the scene during that interaction." McLaughlin praised the quick action of the three, saying many more would have been killed without the timely response.
El Al is the Israeli national carrier known for its strict security measures. In the Tom Bradley International Terminal, its ticket counter is in one of two banks of counters for a number of international airlines.
Gov. Gray Davis said he was "saddened and outraged" by what occurred, but he urged Californians not to let the incident stop them from celebrating Independence Day. "Please continue on with your celebrations," he said.
An El Al official in Tel Aviv, Amos Shapira, said the airline had heightened security recently because of information received from both U.S. and Israeli authorities. Shapira did not elaborate on the information, saying only it was "recent."
The White House Office of Homeland Security did not issue a new security alert for the nation's airports following the shooting, administration officials said. The office has been in touch with the FBI, the Department of Transportation, and state and local authorities, a White House official said. President Bush was notified about the shooting sometime during the day, the official said.
Victims Were Ticket Agent, Diamond Importer
The gunman opened fire around 11:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. EDT) inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal, a separate building from the domestic terminals, officials said.
He shot dead a 20-year-old female El Al ticket agent -- an Israeli national -- and a 46-year-old man who was a diamond importer, investigators said. Four others were injured, including a 61-year-old woman who was shot and wounded, a man who was pistol-whipped by the gunman, and the El Al security chief who was stabbed in the back, officials said.
The diamond importer was identified by family members as Yakov Aminov, 46, an Israeli who lives in the Los Angeles area. He died while undergoing surgery for a single gunshot wound. His family said he was dropping off friends at the airport when the attack happened. The family members said Aminov's wife, who is pregnant, fainted when she heard her husband had died. Two other men at the airport were taken to hospitals for "cardiac issues," said LAPD spokesman Alex Baez.
Shapira, the El Al official, said 10 passengers were at the counter at the time, checking in for a Los Angeles-Tel Aviv flight. Eighty passengers were already on the plane, which U.S. officials were holding on the ground until they completed their investigation, he said.
Baez said police were at "maximum deployment" because of the potential for terror attacks on the Fourth of July, meaning "every available officer who was not on vacation" was working.
Los Angeles Police Chief Martin Pomeroy said the high security profile would continue. "We are going to have additional police officers very visible at this facility for the next few days, certainly through the weekend," Pomeroy said, "and I believe that every incoming passenger and every arriving passenger on an airplane will see an officer either from the LAPD or from the L.A. Department of Airport Police as they traverse this facility. We want people to feel safe and to feel comfortable."
The terminal was shut down immediately after the incident and everyone inside was evacuated, but at 4:15 p.m. passengers were allowed back in and operations at Bradley terminal were "almost back to normal" by Thursday evening, according to airport police chief Bernard Wilson. Twenty outbound international flights were delayed by the shutdown, affecting about 6,000 passengers, Hahn said.
In December 1985 at the El Al airport ticket counter in Rome, terrorists threw grenades and opened fire with semiautomatic weapons, killing 17 people and wounding scores more. The last shooting at a U.S. airport was in May when a Pensacola, Florida, man opened fire at a ticket counter at the main airport in New Orleans, killing one person and wounding another.
Authorities said Patrick Gott, a Muslim man who was charged in the shooting, told them he opened fire because people had made fun of his turban at a restaurant shortly before he went to the airport