Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NEW YORK AIRPORTS: F.B.I. Says Incidents at City Airports Not Linked to Attacks

The New York Times By CLIFFORD J. LEVY and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM September 14, 2001
The F.B.I. said today that all but one of the people taken into custody on Thursday at Kennedy International and La Guardia Airports had been released and that none of those who had been detained had any connection with the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

``The reporting that has been going on all night I can definitively tell you is inaccurate,'' Barry W. Mawn, the assistant F.B.I. director in charge of the New York office, told reporters at a news conference this morning.

"We were out at both airports last evening. We did talk to approximately a dozen individuals. We have only one individual left who is still being questioned by the task force; the other 10 have been released and have been on their way.''

Mr. Mawn said the one remaining man in custody was still being questioned. He did not elaborate, but other officials said privately that it was unrelated to the investigation into the terrorist attacks.

Authorities never identified any of those detained, but did say that they had suspected that one of them was holding a false pilot's license.

Officials said this morning that the man was indeed a pilot and that suspicion was aroused because of papers that the he had in his possession, including a visa that was issued under another name.

As it turned out, the man was taking the papers to his brother in Boston, who coincidentally lived in the same building as three of the people suspected of involvement in the hijackings, a law enforcement official said.

The three major New York-area airports---Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark International---along with airports across the nation were reopened under heighten security on Thursday for the first time since the terrorist attacks. But soon after the New York airports reopened, they were abruptly shut again and law enforcement officials took the people into custody at Kennedy and LaGuardia.

Today Mr. Mawn said: "All of the security departments of the various airlines are quickly reaching out for us in law enforcement if in fact there is any question as to identification and there's an over abundance of caution, which we are fine with.''

He added: "To expedite some of this processing at least here in New York, and I believe this ought to implemented nationally at the major airports, is that law enforcement, in particular the F.B.I., will be stationed at the various airports here. In particular we're going to be at J.F.K. and LaGuardia.''

At least one of the 10 men detained Thursday was wearing an American Airlines crew uniform. He had tried on Tuesday to board a flight to Los Angeles around the time of the hijackings, only to become infuriated when it was canceled because of the explosions at the World Trade Center.

The incidents came on a nerve-wracking day in New York City, filled with bomb scares, mass transit disruptions and a sense of paralysis and fear. Schools and businesses reopened and the city struggled toward some semblance of normality.

But stores and train stations opened and closed sporadically and engineers tested buildings near the World Trade Center's ruins amid fear that they might collapse. At one point the entire borough of Staten Island was closed off in a manhunt for a suspect who turned out to be a phantom. In the incident at Kennedy on Tuesday morning, the flight was canceled just as passengers were beginning to board United Airlines Flight 23 to Los Angeles, investigators said.

"These guys got belligerent, and said something like, "We've got to be on this plane,''' an official said. "They expressed a desire to remain on the plane and resisted getting off.''

The men, who appeared to be of Arab descent, then fled before they could be questioned by law enforcement officers, investigators said.

Shortly before the airports were shut down at 5 p.m., several law enforcement officers halted the boarding of an American Airlines flight that was about to depart from Kennedy for San Jose, Calif., which would have been one of the first planes out since Tuesday. A passenger said the officers closely questioned and searched about 15 people before announcing that the flight was canceled and the airport was closed for the night.

The officers scrutinized the identifications of the passengers, who were detained for at least two hours. "Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched,'' said the passenger, Mike Glass, 43, of Seattle. "And then they went to any male with too much facial hair.''

Around the same time, at the American Airlines terminal at Kennedy, law-enforcement officers were seen detaining a man in handcuffs, with one officer examining his identification.

Airport officials would say only that the Federal Aviation Administration had halted all departures and most arrivals because of F.B.I. activity. The agency did allow planes that had already left other airports destined for the New York region to complete their flights.

The closing capped a tense day that provided a first glimpse of the future of air travel in the United States: heavily armed law enforcement officers of all kinds patrolled the three airports, baggage was aggressively searched, trash cans were removed to prevent bombs from being hidden in them, and restaurants in the terminals were barred from handing out knives---even plastic ones.

At Newark International Airport, passengers reported that they were also ordered to leave the airport instead of waiting for their flights. Marilyn Hankins of Hope, N.J., and her friend Bill Kovach of Vernon, N.J., said they were about to board a Delta flight to Orlando about 5:30 p.m. Just as they entered the walkway to the plane, they were told to turn around.

"Well, at least our luggage made it to the airplane,'' Ms. Hankins said as she waited for her bags to be returned.

Others on the flight were determined to leave. Jaime Newman, 35, of Tuckahoe, N.Y., immediately booked another flight for this morning. "I really want to get to Florida,'' she said, having planned to visit Disney World with a friend.

At La Guardia, Carmen Gil, 49, of Mexico City was wandering around the terminal Thursday night, trying to figure out where to go. She had hoped to fly home with her sister through Washington. "We don't know what we're going to do,'' she said.

Until the closing, only a handful of arrivals and departures had been allowed at the three airports, leaving stranded passengers milling around with little information about when service would resume. Airport workers themselves seemed to have no idea.

There was no better symbol of the airports' rocky reopening than the constantly rejiggered lists of arrivals and departures on the television screens around the terminals, with flights being labeled canceled, only to have a departure time suddenly sprout, only to have it relabeled as canceled a few minutes later.

The atmosphere was so unsettled that the authorities evacuated a terminal at La Guardia in the early afternoon after a Saudi pilot trying to retrieve a bag he left there on Tuesday got into an argument with a worker. The pilot was questioned and released, the authorities said.

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