EL AL SECURITY EXECUTED EGYPTIAN GUNMAN, WITNESSES SAY
American Reporter Staff
LOS ANGELES, July 5, 2002 -- Witnesses to the chaotic shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday have told the Los Angeles Times that an El Al security guard deliberately shot the gunman after he had been disarmed and was being held on the ground by two men. The gunman had earlier shot and stabbed the El Al security guard, who was armed and in plainclothes, according to a report in Thursday's online edition of the Times.
Today's print edition of the Times also ran a drawing showing the man spreadeagled on the floor with one person lying across his arms and another lying across his legs as the El Al guard shoots him from a standing position.
"Witnesses said the security guard shot the man once at close range after the attacker had been disarmed and was being held on the floor," the Times reported.
Early Friday after an all-day investigation, the FBI identified the gunman as a 41-year-old Egyptian immigrant, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, of Irvine, Calif., who has lived in the U.S. for 10 years. He was a legal resident who was a limousine driver, police said, and lived in a townhome in the affluent university town. The man also goes by the last name Ali, the FBI said.
The security guard was identified by the Times as Haim Sapir, chief of the El Al security detail at LAX. He is being praised as a hero by Israeli officials.
"He's a hero," said Yuval Rotem, Israel's consul general here. "He and his colleagues were able to save many passengers."
Sapir apparently vaulted over the counter after the gunman shot the 20-year-old El Al ticket agent and rushed to subdue him. Many witnesses told of security guards in plainclothes with badges in one hand and guns in the other approaching the gunman and ordering him to stop as the shootings were occurring.
Hadayet, 52, whose identity was not confirmed by police until very late Thursday, was described as heavyset and "powerfully built," about 5'10" and weighing between 200 and 250 pounds. Police and FBI spokesmen said he was carrying a .45 caliber Glock pistol he used to shoot an El Al ticket agent he was arguing with, also carried a 9mm pistol, and had a six-inch knife he used to stab at least one guard. The FBI is searching his home but has not commented on their findings yet.
Early in the day, Hadayet had been described as a slightly obese white man with his hair in a ponytail, and later as a man of Latino or Middle Eastern origin. The dead gunman carried no identification, but police say they located a car associated with Hadayet in an airport parking lot. It was being examined by a bomb squad and other detectives late Thursday, and apparently led police to the gunman's Irvine home. FBI officials said neighbors told them Hadayet's wife and two children were in Egypt.
While Israeli officials earlier expressed their belief that the shooting was a terrorist attack, FBI and local police continued to say publicly that there was no indication of that. But the Times reported that "an FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said later that authorities had not ruled out terrorism as a motive."
"We've never said it's not terrorism,'' FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin told the Associated Press late Thursday. "We can't rule that out, but there's nothing to indicate terrorism at this point."
"It seems like a terrorist attack and it looks like a terrorist attack," Rotem, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, told the Times. Rotem likened the attack to one in the Rome airport that took 17 lives in 1985, and to attacks in Paris, London and other European cities.
The man shot by the gunman was Yaakov Aminov, 46, a diamond importer and the father of eight children. The Orthodox Jewish family lives in the San Fernando Valley community of Valley Village. His wife was reportedly six months pregnant with their ninth child - her sixth was Aminov - at the time of the shooting, and was at the hospital with him when he died. The other victim, apparently a female El Al ticket agent who was shot in the chest, has not been identified.
In addition, a woman was shot in the ankle, another man was pistol-whipped, a second guard was hit in the head with butt of a gun and suffered a cut, and Sapir, the guard who killed Hemayet, was cut on the lower back, stabbed in the left thigh and had a superficial bullet wound to his right thigh, according to a trauma surgeon from Beaumont, Texas, Dr. David Parkus, who was nearby when the shooting started and treated him for his wounds.
The man who was killed by the gunman had only moments earlier been approached by a man described as a "friend and neighbor" who then left Aminov in line and went outside to smoke. After the shooting began, the man returned to the scene and helped wrestle Hedayet to the ground and was holding him when Hedayet's gun "skittered away" across the floor, the man told the Times.
"As the two men struggled to hold down the shooter, who was lying on his back, witnesses said another El Al security guard ran over, stood over the gunman and shot him once in the abdomen," the Times reported.
A 9 p.m. news briefing by FBI agent Rich Garcia and LAPD chief Martin Pomeroy did not clarify the issue of whether or not two other "suspects" are in custody. On live television, however, a sergeant of the Los Angeles Airport Police told a Channel 4 KNBC-TV reporter that a description of a second suspect had been circulated amd that station and KCBS-TV Channel 2 both reported their arrest.
If there were other suspects, under current Bush administration policy for the war on terrorism any of foreign origin apparently could be held indefinitely in secret for an act of terrorism against U.S. citizens or on U.S. soil. FBI officials and other authorities seemed to be careful not to say other suspects had been ruled out.
That was among the chaff of a confusing day of statements. The Times also reported that "Rotem, citing Israeli security forces, said the gunman ran directly from the front entrance toward the ticket counter shooting between six and eight times. That account conflicts with those offered by other witnesses, who said the man was already standing at the counter when the shooting began." And a Korean witness said only three or four shots were fired.
Also at variance with police accounts was the widely circulated statement from a witness that Hadayet had twice yelled, "Artie took my job" as he was shooting, and then began telling jokes. Other reports said the man was first noticed acting strangely in line and was challenged by security or the ticketing agent he killed.
The first report at 11:59 a.m.PST on Channel 4 said he walked up to a man in line, apparently Aminov, and shot him in the chest without a word.
If Hedayet was shot after being disarmed and was under control, the El Al security guard could face serious charges, but as of Thursday night it appeared that police and FBI had no plans to arrest him. There are many exculpatory explanations possible, including the general chaos at the scene. Indeed, most people were calling the guard a hero. Some witnesses said that Sapir shot Hedayet before the gunman fell to the ground.
Sapir, chief of the El Al security detail at the airport, reportedly is in his early 40s. He was treated for minor injuries at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and released Wednesday evening, the Times said.