CNN BREAKING NEWS
El Al Security Personnel Foils Hijacking Attempt
Aired November 17, 2002 - 15:47 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're just getting breaking news now into the CNN Center. According to Israeli police, we are hearing that an attempt to hijack El Al flight 581, it was a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, that hijacking attempt has been foiled, apparently by security guards onboard that airline. We are just beginning to get details in. But once again, security guards on the Israeli carrier El Al have foiled a hijacking attempt on El Al flight 581, which was a flight originating in Tel Aviv and en route to Istanbul.
Our CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna is also working this story on the ground, but consider the events of recent days, we've been reporting earlier today of the death of 87-year-old Eban -- he was the first ambassador to the United Nations by Israel. More news coming out of that region.
Also, activity in the West Bank territories. In Hebron, where there was a serious attack at a Jewish settlement, where 12 Israeli security guards, mostly security guards, died after Palestinian gunmen stormed that area. We do have -- do we have Matthew Chance now? Matthew Chance is joining us now.
Matthew, are you in Jerusalem?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, I am indeed in Jerusalem.
LIN: All right. Can you tell us what you do know? We're just getting some preliminary reports about this hijacking attempt on this Israeli carrier.
CHANCE: Yeah, all we have at this stage, Carol, is confirmation from the airport authorities in Tel Aviv, that there has indeed been an attempted hijacking on an El Al flight to Istanbul -- the city, of course, in Turkey. We know according to these Israeli airport officials, that the plane left Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion Airport at about quarter past 8:00 local time in the evening here. That's about two and a half hours ago. We're told by these airport officials, and details are still very sketchy at the moment, that one passenger they told us on board the plane attempted, they say, to try and hijack it. Israeli security guards who were in place on site onboard the aircraft apparently overpowered the individual. We were told he was a male passenger. Managed to pin him to the ground.
And according to the airport authorities, there was no -- there were no shots fired. He wasn't harmed in any way. None of the other passengers, they say, have been injured either. And the plane, the El Al flight, is now apparently safely on the ground in Istanbul. But details are still very sketchy at this stage, and details are coming through to us as we speak.
LIN: Matthew, what was he armed with? And is there any idea how he was able to get through security? I mean, we all know, anybody who has traveled through the airport in Tel Aviv, security is extremely tight. It starts literally at curbside.
CHANCE: It does, indeed. And it's not known yet whether there were any weapons involved. I mean, we have the statement from the Israeli airport officials saying this was an attempted hijack. But as you quite rightly say, security on El Al flights in particular, but also on any flights going out of Israel, but particularly El Al, Israel's national airline, security is extremely tight. Hand luggage, baggage is searched very thoroughly. Equipment is used to try and trace any kinds of explosive materials that may have -- may be -- your baggage may have come in contact with. You're questioned very vigorously by highly trained Israeli intelligence officers to try and, you know, sort of get some idea about what your intentions are, whether you're a genuine individual or not.
And so, it's not clear how this person managed to slip past security and get himself onboard this El Al flight. We don't know at this stage whether there was any weapon involved.
LIN: Right. And so far, we don't have, because the flight is now arrived safely in Istanbul, so we're waiting to hear some eyewitness testimony. But was there any characterization of the threat? I mean, it could have been just a hysterical passenger making threats without a weapon. They don't quite know yet what his intent was, or the nature of that threat?
CHANCE: Well, no, indeed. And we're going to have to wait, I think, over the next hours or so to find out exactly what the nature of the threat was, the specifics of exactly what happened. As I say, Carol, all we know at this stage, all I have here in Jerusalem is a simple confirmation from the airport authorities in Tel Aviv. There was an attempted, what they're calling an attempted hijacking took place. And that the situation has been resolved and that the plane is safely in Istanbul.
LIN: Matthew, has there been any linkage to the recent events in the West Bank territory, in particular, this attack on a Jewish settlement in Hebron, and the reoccupation of that city by Israeli forces to this event here on El Al?
CHANCE: There's been no linkage made at this stage by Israeli officials. Indeed, in fact, I haven't heard any comment from political figures on this so far. But obviously, this is the conclusion many people are going to reach before the details, you know, are going to reach initially. But you know, really before the details come out about what exactly this passenger was all about, what exactly the threats made to the aircraft were, it's very difficult for us to draw conclusions.
LIN: Right. Nor do we know anything about the man on the flight who attempted the hijacking, his profile at all?
CHANCE: Not at this stage. But as I say, Carol, these kinds of details are going to emerge over the next hours or so when the flight is -- you know, when the investigation is thoroughly launched in Istanbul. I'm sure we're going to get a lot more of these kind of details over the coming hours.
LIN: Is it likely that the suspect would be flown back to Israel for questioning?
CHANCE: I would have thought that's the likelihood. I mean, I would have thought the Israeli security forces are going to want to question this individual. I think much will depend, though, on the -- I expect on the nationality of this individual. We don't know whether he's an Israeli, whether he was a foreign national. So again, it all comes back to this problem we have with the actual information, the facts we have at this stage -- very, very sparse on the ground.
LIN: Right. I'm trying to remember the last time I flew El Al, whether the security onboard was undercover or was very apparent?
CHANCE: Well, you get a mixture of both. I've flown El Al on a number of occasions. You get very stringent security on both of those levels. As I say, before you get onto the plane, before you even check in, you're getting a lot of security searches, you're getting baggage checks. Your hand luggage is searched very thoroughly. You're getting questions from the security officials about what your intentions are, whether you're a genuine traveler or whether you're not.
El Al has also, of course, been tightening and tightening its security, particularly after 9/11, because it sees itself obviously as a prime target for terrorists intent on hijacking aircraft. Indeed, they've suffered many hijackings in the past over recent decade. But also, on El Al, you do get these covert security operatives, some of them armed on planes, in order to be a sort of second line, a last line of defense against any kind of hijacking threats. Israelis, of course, very sensitive to that possibility.
LIN: Right. And for we Americans, who are just beginning to use -- get used to the heightened security at the airports, what Matthew Chance is talking about is standard operating procedure. When you even arrive at the airport in Tel Aviv, your bags are searched, not once, but twice. Matthew was talking about the level of questioning. They can get very detailed. They don't have a problem withholding you from your flight if they have any concerns or suspicions.
And Matthew, while profiling is a big issue in this country, the sensitivity to not pull people from line just because of their appearance or ethnicity or their religious affiliation, in Israel that is really not an issue. Their concern, their top priority is security. And anyone they think might fit the profile of a terrorist suspect, right?
CHANCE: That's absolutely right. I mean, they've not qualms at all about pulling people off flights, stopping them, making them miss flights even if they're not totally convinced that these individuals are genuine in their travel plans.
Their prime objective, regardless of what criticism it may draw from human rights groups and just concerned passengers, people who have been inconvenienced, a lot of people have been inconvenienced who fly on El Al, but the prime concern of the authorities here is to make sure their flights are totally secure. Indeed, that's why that after 9/11 particularly, El Al has experienced a surge in passengers, because many Israelis believe it's the safest airline flying at the moment because of those stringent security measures.
LIN: Right. So what would be the procedure at this point, Matthew? If they do bring the suspect back into Israel, what are the rules of engagement as far as detention? Can they hold him as long as necessary in order to figure out what happened?
CHANCE: You know, I'm not sure exactly about what the legal ramifications of this, given the fact that this plane is now on the ground in Istanbul. I'm not sure about what legal procedures would have to be undertaken by the Israeli authorities to get this individual, this man back into Israel to -- for the investigation to be held. But I mean, I can pretty much assess that that is indeed what the Israeli authorities will be attempting to do. What exact legal procedures they're going to have to undertake to achieve it, though, I'm just not clear about at this stage.
LIN: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you very much. You have tolerated my questions very well and given us a lot of information in terms of at least setting the scene. Matthew Chance, live in Jerusalem by telephone.
Of course, Matthew and our team on the ground is going to be working the story. I'm sure we're making calls in Istanbul, Turkey. We will get more details for you, but if you just happen to be tuning in, we just broke into regular programming with breaking news that security guards on the Israeli national carrier El Al have apparently foiled what appears to be a hijacking attempt on flight 581, which was heading from Tel Aviv to Istanbul.
So all is well. He is in custody, and sure to face some very tough questioning by the Israelis.
I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center. More to come. But first a break.
LIN: Good afternoon, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta. We've had breaking news just into the CNN center. Reports which we have confirmed with the Israeli police that an attempted hijacking of the Israeli national carrier El Al flight 581, flight originating in Tel Aviv en route to Istanbul. There was a hijacking attempt by a man on board. We don't know what weapons, if any, were used, how this man got through very tight security in Tel Aviv. But we have CNN's Matthew Chance who has been working the story. He is live by telephone from Jerusalem. Matthew, for the viewers who are just joining us now, and we do welcome our international audience to this latest breaking news here, can you tell us what you do know about what happened?
CHANCE: Well, we don't know a great deal at this stage. Details are still very sketchy about what exactly has taken place on this El Al flight en route to Istanbul from Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport. What we do know, though, is coming to us through airport officials and police who are confirming that one passenger onboard that El Al flight apparently, they say, tried to hijack the aircraft. They say that security officials who were in place onboard the aircraft managed to overpower the individual, who we were told was a male passenger, and prevent that hijacking from taking place.
They say that the alleged hijacker was not injured in that confrontation, nor were any other passengers onboard that flight, which took off from Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion Airport at about 8:15 local time in the evening. That's just over two and a half hours ago from now. We know that the flight has landed safely in Istanbul International Airport. And an investigation obviously is under way to find out exactly what details -- what actually details were that led to this hijacking. We don't have those details at the moment, but that information is coming to us every moment.
LIN: That's right, Matthew. In the meantime, I just want to let you know, Reuters wire service is reporting and they are quoting Israeli media there saying that the man was apparently an Israeli- Arab, so an Arab who was of Israeli citizenship. He tried to storm the cockpit of the plane before the security marshals on the plane caught him, so that he was physically getting down the aisle, trying to get to the cockpit, trying to get to the pilots in this instance. Any reaction there? Anything on that?
CHANCE: Well, I mean, it's interesting that this individual was overpowered. It doesn't seem at this stage that -- no reports at least at this stage that there was any kind of weapon involved. And we've spoken a few moments ago about how tight the security is to get onboard El Al flights from Tel Aviv, extremely tight. People's -- passengers' baggage is searched very thoroughly. Not just the hand baggage, but also the luggage that goes into the cargo hold as well.
Not just that, people are questioned very extensively about what their intentions are, to make sure that they're genuine passengers and they're not believed about to embark on some kind of terrorist act, such as this one. And so there are these very tight security measures that have been put in place by the Israelis. So it is quite shocking, I think, for many Israelis who will be listening to this, many people around the world as well, that even despite their security measures, there has been this sort of crisis in the air en route to Istanbul.
LIN: And we don't know, certainly, whether this was politically motivated, whether this was just simply a crazy person who lost control on the flight, but obviously because it is the Israeli national carrier, that raises a lot of questions in people's minds as to what his intent was, whether there was a message in this action. CHANCE: Certainly. This gentleman, if those reports are accurate, he was an Israeli-Arab, may well be someone who sympathizes with the plight of Palestinians here in the occupied territories. So that's obviously the first conclusion that many people listening to this are going to jump to.
At this point I want to stress that we don't have any accurate information about what exactly the threat was posed by this individual, to the passengers, or to the aircraft. So it's very difficult for us to make accurate -- draw accurate conclusions as to what his intentions were. But as I say, a very shocking incident for people who consider Israelis, particularly, who consider El Al to be among the safest airlines of the world, particularly because it sees itself, it acknowledges that it is a prime target for terrorists opposed to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. And surprising, not least because of the stringent security measures, that El Al security officials of Israel put in place before passengers get onboard the flights.
LIN: Right. And Matthew, we just want to show people a perspective on where this flight was actually headed. And the distance is not all that great, the flight between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. But is there anything to be read into the fact that this is the Israeli national carrier flying out of the capital city of the Jewish state into Istanbul, into Turkey, which is a relatively moderate Muslim country?
CHANCE: It is indeed a moderate Muslim country. I'm not sure that we can make any -- draw any conclusions about the fact that this flight was en route to Istanbul in Turkey. I think it's more relevant, more significant that this was Israel's national carrier. As I say, El Al is a prime target for -- is believed to be a prime target for terrorists intent on carrying out these kinds of acts onboard aircraft. And I think that probably the very fact that it was an El Al flight rather than the fact that it was en route to Istanbul is the most significant of the two facts.
LIN: Right. And the last time there was an incident involving El Al was actually right here in the United States. I believe it was at the Los Angeles International Airport where a gunman broke into the international terminal and opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing several people, including an El Al security guard who was posted right next to the ticket counter. In that case, the Israeli government was very quick to come out and say, this is indeed an act of terrorism, though I don't know whether it was officially linked, the man who was the perpetrator in that was killed by one of the security guards in that.
But I'm going to put you a little bit on the spot here, Matthew. Do you remember the last time that El Al actually was involved in a hijacking, that was targeted by a hijacking?
CHANCE: I mean, I know -- I can't remember the exact incident of -- or the last time this happened. I mean, this happened a lot in previous decades. El Al was a prime target for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as it tried under the leadership of Yasser Arafat to put its political agenda into the international arena. El Al planes, El Al flights were frequently targeted by Palestinian militant groups, linked, and of course under the umbrella of the PLO for hijackings.
And it's because of that threat that's emerged over the previous decades to the Israeli national airline, that Israeli security is so stringent on flights. And again, you saw this -- you mentioned that incident at the Los Angeles Airport involving the check-in desk of El Al. They had security guards heavily armed around the check-in desk at the El Al checking desk in Los Angeles. And so you can imagine how tight the security is here in Israel. People very concerned. The security forces very conscious that their airline is a prime target.
LIN: So, Matthew, what is likely to happen next? We do understand that the flight was able to land safely. We haven't heard of any passengers being injured onboard. I'm going to presume that this man is in custody. Who takes custody of him? What happens next?
CHANCE: Well, initially, I'd expect it would be the Turkish authorities taking custody of this individual. At least until the Israeli authorities can overcome the legal obstacles, the legal hurdles, or procedures rather, that they have to go through in order to get this individual back into Israel so that he can be questioned thoroughly.
I expect also, though, that Israeli intelligence officers will be very interested in speaking to this individual. Whether that's in Turkey or whether it's here in Israel, I don't know what legal procedures would have to be gone through in order to secure his travel back to Israel. But given this information we have now quoted on the Reuters news agency, and again, I don't know if this is true at this stage, but if he is indeed an Israeli passport holder, whether he's an Arab or a Jew, regardless of that, that would obviously give the Israeli government much more jurisdiction over what he apparently is alleged to have attempted to do.
LIN: Matthew, stay right there. We just want to bring our audience up to date, just in case you are joining us right now. We are in breaking news mode because we have learned and confirmed with Israeli police that Israeli security guards onboard an El Al flight originating in Tel Aviv and en route to Istanbul, they managed to foil an attempted hijacking. So far, no reports of any injuries. We understand, according to Reuters news agency, the wire service, they are quoting Israeli media as saying that a man, apparently an Israeli- Arab, tried to storm the cockpit of the airplane before security marshals onboard the plane managed to catch him.
We're not hearing so far any reports of weapons used. Matthew Chance has been reporting extensively on how high the security normally is at the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. My experience through that airport, it would seem virtually impossible for anybody to smuggle weapons. You go through several baggage checks, extensive questioning. They do not hesitate to profile and pull people out of lines, even if it means that you're going to miss your flight if they in any way suspect you of any sort of suspicious behavior. Matthew, we were talking about the procedures and what may happen next. If and when they do bring this man back for questioning, will they -- who will he likely be questioned by, and what will that process likely be like?
CHANCE: Well, I mean, Israel has its own security forces, its own intelligence operators, of course. That will be focused very intensely on trying to find out not just what happened on this flight, on this El Al flight to Istanbul, but how he managed to slip through the very tight and stringent security in place at Ben-Gurion Airport. As we've discussed extensively over the past few minutes, the security at that airport, especially when passengers are getting onboard flights of Israel's national airline, El Al, is extremely tight. Luggage is searched, not just hand luggage, but also luggage that goes in the hold. Equipment, very sensitive monitoring equipment is used to sense whether any of the baggage has even been in contact with explosives material of any kind.
Not just that; you have intelligence personnel on the ground asking many -- very many detailed questions about what the intentions of the traveler are, to make sure he's a genuine passenger and not somebody intent on carrying out some kind of a terrorist attack.
There are two things that are going to be investigated very seriously. First of all, what exactly happened on this flight, how this passenger could have slipped through security. And indeed, what the failings were of that security, to allow a passenger like this to get onboard an El Al flight en route to Istanbul.
LIN: Matthew, I'm getting several pieces of wire copy right now. And while we work our own reporting on the ground, which of course is the most reliable, I do want to share some information that Reuters news agency is getting from Israeli media describing very dramatically the scene onboard.
Apparently, there were about 170 people onboard this flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. And a quote here from one of the Israeli passengers out of Istanbul. Quote, "we heard people saying there was fighting and half a minute later it became clear that from row five or six, a man ran amok towards the pilot's cabin, attacking a stewardess and tried to enter the cockpit. We saw a stewardess running like crazy from the front of the place to the business section. She was terrified." This according to a passenger.
There were apparently security guards throwing him to the floor with his legs spread and his face to the floor. I don't know what kind of jet flight 581 was, but I am going to assume that there wasn't much room to do this. There must have been absolute chaos on board. Fortunately, so far, no reported injuries, 170 people onboard.
Matthew, I had talked with you about this earlier, but I just want you to set the scene for us there in Israel as well as the Palestinian territories. It has been a tense time for the past two years in this latest uprising. But in particular, a particularly gruesome event which happened at an Israeli settlement just this last Friday. We don't know if this attempted hijacking was politically motivated, but remind us again, set the scene of the events over the weekend, the attack at the Jewish settlement in Hebron and the reoccupation of that West Bank city and what the implications may be here.
CHANCE: Well, there have been a number of events over the past week or so -- I mean, not just over the past week, but particularly over the past week or so, that have involved the killing of Israelis by Palestinian militants. First, last week, there was a gun attack, shooting attack on a kibutz (ph) inside of Israel in which five Israelis were killed, including two very young children. I think their ages were 4 and 5. That kibutz (ph) was inside Israel proper, you know, very close to the West Bank, but not actually a settlement on the occupied territory.
But again, over the weekend, there was this other shooting instance in the divided Palestinian town, or city, rather, of Hebron, where a group of Jewish worshipers accompanied by a heavy troop escorts, I have to say, were set upon by a group of Palestinian gunmen. Those gunmen claim to have been members of Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad claiming responsibility for this attack. In that attack, 12 individuals were shot dead. Nine of them were Israeli soldiers. At this point, that's the understanding we have, nine of them were Israeli soldiers, including a very senior officer, a colonel, in fact, becoming the highest ranking Israeli officer to have been killed here, in this intifada.
So in the last week or so have demonstrated, if any demonstration were needed, is that the relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is extremely tense. We've seen a response from the Israelis to that Hebron attack. They've re-entered Palestinian areas of the city. And they spent much of this year inside that city. But they've re-entered it again now, imposing their rule -- imposing their occupation on the entirety of Hebron in response to that attack. And that's just an initial measure. The real response, heavy response, many people are expecting is yet to come.
LIN: That's right. And now Ariel Sharon is talking about perhaps for security linking the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which would, of course, by linking them may displace even more Palestinians and increase the Israeli presence in the West Bank.
What I find interesting about so far what we know about this attempted hijacking story is that according to Israeli media, the suspect is described as an Israeli-Arab. And I know for Americans here in the United States, the issue can get a little confused. We are used to hearing about Palestinian-driven attacks in Israeli territory, perhaps not as much awareness by Americans certainly that there are Arabs who are Israeli citizens living in the state of Israel. Sometimes it is a -- it's a nervous relationship between Israelis and Israeli-Arabs. But since Oslo, there's been much more interaction between these two populations, and there are those who might be surprised that an Israeli-Arab would perpetuate an attempted hijacking on the Israeli carrier.
CHANCE: Well, the point with the Israeli-Arabs, I think, is, a lot of Israelis are very mistrustful of Israeli-Arabs. One of the reasons for that is that from the Israeli perspective, the distinction between Palestinians in the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli-Arabs, people, Arabs who have Israeli documentation, Israeli passports is in some ways artificial.
Remember, Israeli-Arabs were Palestinians who stayed in Israel when the state was formed. Palestinians, the ones that were most like -- that we're most used to talking about, if you will, are ones who either lived in the West Bank or Gaza or left the state of Israel when it was formed, with the intention, of course, of coming back. There's a lot of interlinkage and relationship between the Israeli community, Israeli-Arab community, rather, inside Israel, and the Palestinian community in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. In some ways, their interests -- certainly you have Israeli-Arab politicians who are very sympathetic to the plight of their Palestinian occupied neighbors.
LIN: Right. And once again, we don't know if this attempted hijacking was politically motivated.
Matthew, while you were talking, we are just getting some Reuters video in from the scene at Ottoturk (ph) airport in Istanbul where we understand that all 170 passengers so far, no reports of any injuries in this attempted hijacking of El Al flight 581, which was heading to Istanbul out of Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, departing that airport nearly three hours ago when a man described by Israeli media as an Israeli-Arab tried to storm the cockpit of the plane before its security marshals managed to hold him down, managed to actually tackle him in the aisle.
Matthew Chance, I'm going to ask you to please bear with us, stand by, please, and we're going to give you a little bit of a break here so that you can do some more reporting. Right now, joining me by telephone is terrorism expert Brian Jenkins, taking a look at this situation.
Brian, we don't know much about exactly what happened onboard that El Al flight, but we are getting more reports in, hearing that apparently an Israeli-Arab tried to storm the cockpit. You, I'm sure, have been several times in the region. You know how tight security is held at Ben-Gurion Airport at Tel Aviv. How could something like this happen?
BRIAN JENKINS, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, we don't know the details yet, so the fact is, all we know is that a person got on the plane and attempted to storm the cockpit. We don't know that he had any weapons at all. So he may not have, in that sense, gotten anything through security that he wasn't supposed to get.
Now, we don't have X-rays for a person's souls, so we don't know what is inside a person's mind when they -- when he boarded the flight.
El Al is very good at screening passengers, at really talking to them and -- here again, we have an Israeli citizen getting on a flight, routinely, and that will have -- that they'll have to examine. Whether their profiling system failed or not, but we don't know that there were any weapons that got through. LIN: No, we don't, and we don't know what his intent was. But El Al, when you talk about El Al is not just any other carrier. I mean, even at Ben-Gurion Airport, they have I would say stricter, far more stringent procedures than even the other airlines, because of the symbolism of this national carrier, an obvious target for opponents to the state of Israel. Tell us a little bit more about how distinctive their security system is.
JENKINS: You know, the El Al system, there was an El Al plane that was successfully hijacked in 1968. In fact, it was one of the first politically motivated, or terrorist hijackings, where the hijackers were determined not simply to change the destination of the plane, but to make demands on the government of Israel itself. And it took a long time to resolve that episode.
The government of Israel made a decision at that time that this was simply intolerable, that given the threat to the state of Israel, given the crisis that could be caused by a hijacking of this type, that they simply were not going to take any risks at all. And they began to implement what is recognized internationally as the most stringent set of security measures, measures that begin from the moment one indicates that one is going to fly on the plane, that is, from the purchase of ticket or making of reservation that goes right up through multiple layers of defense, interrogations, interviews at the point of boarding, application of all available technology, and further defenses on the airplanes themselves, what we would call in the United States sky marshals, security personnel armed on the flights.
So it is tough to hijack an El Al plane. Probably one of the toughest planes to hijack in the world. Therefore, in this particular set of circumstances, we wonder if the -- we wonder about the motives. We wonder about the mind-set, in fact, the -- you know, whether this individual was not a disturbed individual that may be acting out something, but with absolutely no hope of succeeding.
LIN: Do you think this was politically motivated?
JENKINS: We don't know yet. I mean, obviously given the choice of target, given the action, the attempt to take over a plane, you know, certainly it is a presumption. At the same time, one wants to be a little bit cautious here and not take every act by every individual, including persons who may be clinically depressed, mentally disturbed, and say, this is an act of organized terrorism.
The question will be whether or not this individual had links with any terrorist organizations, or was this something that he thought God told him to do, or he got in his own mind.
LIN: Right, just some crazy motivation.
LIN: And yet, Brian, you take a look at the climate. I mean, here we've heard of yet another statement by al Qaeda with specific threats against Washington and New York City, directly talking about the Palestinian crisis and what is happening in Israel and blaming that in terms of the United States now focusing its attention on Baghdad, blaming Israel in collusion with the United States in attacking the Arab world. Increased chatter that the FBI is hearing around the world of different al Qaeda cells talking about attacks on Western interests.
I mean, what do you make of the timing of this attempted hijacking, given the climate of what's happening? U.N. inspectors planning on landing in Baghdad tomorrow to start these controversial inspections.
JENKINS: Well, there's no question that tensions are especially high right now because of the continuing campaign of al Qaeda, because of the confrontation with Iraq, because of the continuing violence in Israel and the Palestinian territory, that tensions are running extremely high.
Within that, there are organized groups like al Qaeda, like Hezbollah, like Islamic Jihad, these various groups that have claimed credit for terrorist attacks, and we know, as we speak, they are planning new ones.
But within this whole very, very stressful environment, that also has an effect on the general population. And reacting to whether it's inspiration or simply tension or resentment or hatred, a lot of people are really put under situations of extraordinary stress, and therefore, we find out at the -- at the edge a few who are pushed into individual behavior that is bizarre.
LIN: Yes. And we're still learning, obviously, a lot more about this man. He is in Istanbul.
We just want to bring our audience up to speed here. In case you are just joining us, we've been reporting about an attempted hijacking of the Israeli national carrier El Al, flight 581, heading out from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, when a man onboard, described by Israeli media reports as an Israeli-Arab, rushed to the cockpit door, screaming, according to a Reuters report, who is quoting an eyewitness interviewed in Istanbul, that he heard people saying that there was fighting, and a half a minute later it became clear that from row five or six, it could have been first class there, a man ran amok towards the pilots cabin, attacked a stewardess and tried to enter the cockpit before security guards onboard El Al managed to tackle him.
Joining us right now, and I want to thank Brian Jenkins, our terrorism expert for joining us, and Brian, if you can hang on the line, please do, because as we get new information, I would love to check it out with you. But joining us also by telephone is CNN security analyst Kelly McCann.
Kelly, what do you make of this story, this attempted hijacking, the timing of it, the methodology?
KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It's interesting to note there has been an increase in tempo, operational tempo, I think, for the last three months. And that's inarguable. Now, whether they're all linked together, whether partially conducted by sympathizers or direct members or people who just believe in the cause is arguable. But it certainly is interesting to note, obviously, how quickly it was handled by El Al.
LIN: Right. And in the questioning of this man, if he is an Israeli-Arab, he is an Israeli citizen. We do know that most people in the region are required to carry -- especially if you're Arab, to carry around paper documentation. And oftentimes these people are pulled over and questioned routinely by security forces around the state of Israel, and records are kept on people.
So likely, if this man is brought back to the state of Israel, they may very well have a dossier on him, where he's traveled, who he has visited, who he really is?
MCCANN: Absolutely. In fact, here in the U.S., the CAPS system, the computer-aided passenger screening system maintains records on our travel histories, et cetera. And CAPS, too, now, they incorporate up to 1,000 elements of other incidents available about all of us. But you know, we still can't discount, either, that in fact it's not related at all, and it is just a mentally disturbed person.
LIN: That's right. So what would you look for -- I mean, what are you looking for in the reporting coming out of the region in terms of getting the big picture of what really happened here and what his motivations were?
MCCANN: Well, the fact that the Israeli government will be slow to publicly state exactly what they've got, until they've been able to take away all the intelligence that they make from interviewing him. I don't think that anyone's going to make any leaps here. But I would expect also that when they do make a statement, saying that they know, for instance, that this person is related to a terrorist group, or they know that he's just a deranged individual, that you can take it to the bank.
LIN: Brian Jenkins, are you still on the line with us? All right. We've lost Brian Jenkins for the moment. But Kelly, how quickly will they be able to find that out?
MCCANN: Well, it will depend on, of course, the guy's state, and it will depend on the arrest procedure that was followed when they grabbed him. And if there's going to be a recovery period necessary. Obviously there was a physical fight. And, you know, it would be, even if the person wanted to buy time, say, you know, that he suffered some injuries, et cetera, or wasn't in a state where he could answer questions, so there's got to be a settling down time obviously first.
And once that's undertaken, I think what they'll do is take his verbal answers to questions and then do exactly what you pointed out, go back to the records, see what his travel history was, see if he's been associated with any other known adversarial entities. They'll look at his history, and then put the whole picture together for public use.
LIN: Kelly, do you know anything about the questioning methodology that Israeli police and other forces who might be involved in the questioning of this man, what can they do to bring out the answers in him?
MCCANN: Interrogation and interview technique is an amazing study. I know that obviously before El Al when you travel, they ask provocative questions to get you to emote so that your physical behavior can then be observed, and then they make a judgment based on your reaction to questions, whether you should go into the line A, say, and depart, or whether you should go into line B for further screening.
If something does happen, there are pretty standardized techniques worldwide, that even if you know the techniques, even if you know that, for instance, sleep deprivation may be a part of it, or that there may be a good cop/bad cop kind of thing, and some of them are much more complex than that, they're still very hard to overcome, because over time, when the situation is real and you're in the middle of it and there's a consequence, it has a cumulative effect that works to the interrogator's advantage.
LIN: All right. Thank you. Kelly McCann, a CNN security analyst. We're always grateful for your expertise, especially on this breaking news.
Kelly McCann, joining us by telephone.
A quick recap here, in case you are just joining CNN. We've been reporting on a foiled attempted hijacking by El Al -- I mean, of El Al, El Al flight 581 from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, 170 people onboard. So far, all reported safe. The hijacker, the suspected hijacker is in custody right now. Kelly McCann was just talking about some of the questioning techniques that the Israeli forces may use with this man if and when he does get returned to Israel.
We understand from Israeli media reports that he's described as an Israeli-Arab, who was sitting towards the front of the plane when eyewitnesses interviewed by the wire services in Istanbul said that they heard fighting and shouting coming from the front of the plane. Apparently, a man from row five or six running towards the pilot's cabin, attacking a stewardess and trying to enter the cockpit before security guards on that flight managed to stop him. He is in custody.
Thank you very much for joining us for our breaking news coverage. We're going to take a quick break and then resume regular CNN programming.
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