A YEMENI man who disrupted a San Francisco-bound flight was portrayed by US prosecutors as a dangerous and erratic passenger who tried to barge into the cockpit twice, did not carry any luggage and yelled “God is great” in Arabic.
Assistant US attorney Elise Becker said Rageh Al-Murisi, 28, was carrying several valid and expired forms of identification from New York and California, $47 and two post-dated cheques totalling $13,000 in his wallet.
One cheque was made out to himself, she said, but she did not specify where the other was from.
Becker also said he did not tell his relatives in California that he was travelling there.
Al-Murisi is charged with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants as pilots on American Airlines Flight 1561 were preparing to land in San Francisco on Sunday, one week after the death of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden by the US that raised fears of a possible retaliation.
“He attempted to enter the cockpit right before a critical part of the flight,” Becker said in prosecution arguments to withhold bail for Al-Murisi.
Air marshal Paul Howard said after being told the cockpit door was not the restroom, Al-Murisi made eye contact with a crew member, lowered his shoulder and rammed the door.
The crew member told Howard he then got between Al-Murisi and the door, but Al-Murisi kept yelling and pushing forward in an attempt to open it.
Court documents say Al-Murisi repeatedly yelled “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”, and tried twice to open the cockpit door before being subdued by a crew member and several passengers, including a former Secret Service agent, Larry Wright.
The flight landed safely at San Francisco International Airport, but not without frightening passengers.
Becker said the same Arabic phrase was uttered by the hijackers of Flight 93 as they took over the plane that eventually went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11 2001, and by a Nigerian who allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009.
Wright said he jumped out of his seat after he heard a scream and Al-Murisi walked past him yelling “Allahu Akbar”. Al-Murisi was tackled and Wright put him in a “control hold” as others tied his arms and legs in plastic handcuffs.
“I felt he was trying to take on the flight crew and possibly try to crash the airplane,” Wright said.
The man screamed “Allahu Akbar” at least 30 times while in custody, he added.
Al-Murisi’s lawyer argued that her client was not a public danger, but Judge James Larson disagreed and denied bail. He planned to revisit the issue tomorrow.
Authorities have said Al-Murisi is not on any terror watch list, has no clear or known ties to terrorism and investigators have not established a motive.
Yemen has been a focus of US officials because one of the most active branches of al-Qaida operates in a remote part of the country.
Al-Murisi’s cousin, described him as a “normal guy” who taught maths in Yemen.
“He has no intention of hurting nobody,” the cousin said. “I don’t know what happened on the plane. It doesn’t make sense.”
Another cousin claimed Al-Murisi did not show an interest in politics and was not intensely religious.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that a passenger tried to open an emergency door on a flight from Orlando to Boston but was subdued by another traveller.
Boston Logan International Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said it was not clear why the passenger tried to open the door on the Tuesday night Airbus 320 flight out of Orlando International Airport.
An off-duty police officer subdued the passenger and detained him while the plane continued on its journey to Boston.
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