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Judge denies bail for passenger who roiled Calif. flight

Prosecutors say Yemen native charged cockpit

Associated Press / May 11, 2011

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SAN FRANCISCO — A Yemen native who disrupted a San Francisco-bound flight was portrayed by prosecutors yesterday 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 valid and expired forms of identification from New York and California, $47 in cash, and two postdated checks totaling $13,000 in his wallet. She said he made one check out to himself but did not specify where the other was from. She also said he didn’t tell his relatives in California that he was traveling there.

Murisi faces 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 United States’ raid and killing of Osama bin Laden, which has raised fears of possible retaliation.

“He attempted to enter the cockpit right before a critical part of the flight,’’ Becker said in arguing to withhold bail for Murisi.

Judge James Larson denied bail yesterday, but planned to revisit the issue on Friday.

In the court affidavit filed Monday, air marshal Paul Howard said that after being told the cockpit door wasn’t the restroom, Murisi made eye contact with a crew member, lowered his shoulder, and rammed the door. The crew member told Howard he then got between Murisi and the door, but Murisi kept yelling and pushing forward in an attempt to open it, according to the affidavit.

Court documents say Murisi repeatedly yelled “Allahu Akbar,’’ or 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 retired Secret Service agent and a former police officer. The flight landed safely at San Francisco International Airport, but not without frightening passengers who became alarmed as he yelled and tried to rush the cockpit.

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, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, and by a Nigerian man who allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas 2009.

Flight 1561 Sunday was headed to San Francisco from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and was carrying 156 passengers and six crew members.

Authorities have said Murisi has no clear or known ties to terrorism and investigators have not established a possible motive. Yemen, a nation at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, has been a focus of US officials because one of the most active branches of Al Qaeda operates in remote parts of the country.

Murisi’s lawyer, assistant federal public defender Elizabeth Falk, said he was not a public danger.

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