New information is emerging about Rageh Ahmed Mohammed Al-Murisi, the 28-year-old Yemeni man who tried to storm the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 737-800, operating as flight AA 1561, from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 8:50 p.m. PDT, according to reports published by CBS News, San Francisco Examiner, California Beat, Seattle Times, Indian Express, and other global media on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.
At an arraignment hearing, following charges filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, May 9, 2011, Case Number 31170520, in a complaint signed by Paul A. Howard, of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), and presented by Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Elise Becker to U.S. magistrate judge James Larson, it was stated there is probably cause that Mr. Al-Marisi violated Title 49, U.S. Code, Section 46504, “interference with flight crew members and attendants”, as detailed in court papers.
According to the prosecutor, Ms. Becker, “The defendant poses a significant threat. He attempted to enter the cockpit right before a critical part of the flight.”
Mr. Al-Murisi’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk, argued that the government had not shown that her client was a danger to the public.
However, Judge Larson ruled that Al-Murisi should be held without bail and scheduled a detention hearing for Friday, May 13, 2011 when it is assumed that the government will argue that the suspect is a flight risk.
CBS News reported that Al-Murisi, who worked as a math teacher in Yamen, entered the United States on an immigrant visa in January 2010, and was granted a permanent resident green card.
According to a cousin, 25-year-old Ahmed Almoraissi, who lives in Vallejo, CA, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Al-Murisi’s wife and children remain in Yamen. He indicated that Al-Murisi once lived on Sonoma Boulevard in Vallejo, next to the Islamic Center of Vallejo, but moved to New York about a year ago to seek a work to support his family, and was not aware that his relative was returning to California.
Others on the American Airlines flight, which was carrying 156 passengers and a crew of six, described Al-Murisi as sitting at the rear of the aircraft, looking nervous and fidgeting before he got up and walked quickly in a determined manner towards the first class seating area at the front of the plane, shouting “Allah Akbar”, the Arabic phrase meaning “God is Great”.
The federal prosecutor, Elise Becker, noted this same Arabic phrase has been used by Islamic individuals in other high-profile crimes, including al-Qaeda operatives during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the American-born Muslim, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009, killing 13 U.S. soldiers, and wounding 29 others.
When he first tried the handle of the cockpit door, a flight attendant thought he had mistaken it for the forward lavatory, and directed him to the door on the left. However, instead of leaving, the passenger turned his left shoulder, ramming it into the door and tried to force it open, as shown in the attached video clip and slide show which accompany this report.
He was restrained by the flight attendant, who called for others to assist him. Larry Wright, a retired 27-year veteran of the San Mateo Police Department, was among the passengers who retrained Al-Murisi, and held him down until he was placed in plastic handcuffs. The former lawman also sat next to Al-Murisi until the aircraft landed, and the Yemeni was turned over to airport police and federal authorities.
During the scuffle and take down, the suspect suffered abrasions to his face and arms.
It was later determined that earlier on Sunday he had boarded another American Airlines flight from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, where he connected with flight 1561 to San Francisco.
Al-Murisi was carrying two postdated checks, one dated May 15 for $5,000 and the other dated June 20 for $8,000, $47 in cash, a pair of sunglasses, an Apple charger, and besides his passport, also had driver’s licenses from New York and California. He had no luggage, keys, cell phone, or other personal effects with him when he was taken into custody. It was also reported that he was traveling on a one-way ticket.
Yemen, located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is among nations in the Middle East currently experiencing political upheaval and civil unrest. It is also home to one of the most active branches of al-Qaeda. That group, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose leaders include Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, is suspected to have been behind several attempts to bomb U.S.-bound aircraft since 2009, including the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 underwear bombing attack on December 25, 2009, and the cargo planes bomb plot of October 29, 2010.
Critics of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have claimed that agency is ineffective is spotting potential terrorists, citing the suspicious indicators in this recent incident that should have raised alarms. However, others have defended airport security, claiming that Mr. Al-Murisi was not carrying any dangerous object, and could not have been predicted to pose a threat.
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