Suspect in flight disturbance had Calif. ID

Published 10:21 pm Monday, May 9, 2011

Federal agents are investigating the background of a California man with a Yemeni passport who pounded on the cockpit door of an American Airlines flight as it approached San Francisco before a flight attendant tackled him, authorities said Monday.

Rageh Almurisi, 28, does not have any clear or known ties to terrorism, and investigators have not established a possible motive, San Francisco police Sgt. Michael Rodriguez said. 

Almurisi, of Vallejo, Calif., got up from his seat and went toward the cockpit door 10 minutes before the flight from Chicago was supposed to land on Sunday night, authorities said.

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Almurisi was yelling unintelligibly as he brushed past a flight attendant on his way toward the cockpit, Rodriguez said.

A male flight attendant tackled him, and other crew members and passengers, including a retired Secret Service agent and a retired San Mateo police officer, helped subdue him as he banged on the door, police said.

“They were able to get him to the ground and a flight attendant put him in plastic handcuffs,” Rodriguez said.

Almurisi was taken into federal custody Monday after spending the night at the San Mateo County jail, said San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.

Andrew Wai, a passenger aboard Sunday’s flight, described a chaotic scene, telling KGO-TV that passengers were screaming and crying.

“Flight attendants were trying to soothe different passengers,” Wai said. “We were all looking at our lives flash before our eyes.”

Wai also said Almurisi appeared “fidgety” in his seat when he saw him on the way to the bathroom earlier in the flight.

The Boeing 737 carrying 162 people landed safely at 9:10 p.m. and the man was taken into police custody. The flight came from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, authorities said.

Almurisi carried a Yemeni passport, Rodriguez said.

The incident comes amid concerns that extremists will try to mount attacks in retaliation for American commandos killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last week.

Yemen, a nation at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, has been a focus of U.S. officials because one of the most active branches of al-Qaeda operates in the remote part of the country.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Almurisi was carrying California identification.

During the scuffle, Almurisi got some bruises and was checked at a hospital before being taken to San Mateo County Jail, where he was held on suspicion of interfering with a flight crew, a federal offense, according to authorities.

No one else was hurt and the airport continued operating normally with security levels unchanged, the officer said.

There were two other mid-air disturbances.

A 34-year-old man from Illinois tried to open a plane door on a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Chicago. Investigators questioned him, but did not file charges.

There was a security scare about a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to San Diego, prompting it to land in Albuquerque, N.M., but authorities found “no suspicious devices,” authorities said. No one was arrested.