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Man Attempts to Hijack El Al Flight

Aired November 17, 2002 - 16:41   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta. We do have breaking news here. We've been reporting for the last half-hour on this attempted hijacking of the Israeli national airline El Al flight 581, which left from Tel Aviv en route to Istanbul, Turkey, about three hours ago. That flight has landed safely after security guards onboard that flight managed to tackle a man described by Israeli media reports as an Israeli-Arab.
According to eyewitnesses, quoted by the wire services in Istanbul, this man started running up the aisle like crazy. There were shouts and sounds of fighting as he tried to rush the cockpit door, when the security guards managed to tackle him and subdue him in the aisle. Some 170 people onboard. No reports yet of any injuries.

You're looking at videotape we are just getting in out of Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Joining us by telephone, because we're really trying to get a sense of why this is happening now, the significance of it obviously being that El Al is the Israeli national carrier, a symbolic target in the past for terrorism. Dan Papp is a security expert at Georgia Tech University right here in the Atlanta area. He does a lot of consulting for governments, as well as business, and knows quite a bit about El Al's security measures.

Dan, I'm sure you've been watching our coverage tracking this story. What do you make of what happened today?

DAN PAPP, INTL. SECURITY EXPERT: Well, my own read on it, with so many -- so much information being really sketchy right now, is that this is just probably somebody who snapped and just tried to make a run on the cockpit door. El Al has one of the, if not the best security systems in the entire airline industry. They put people -- armed people onboard every one of their flights. They have stringent security before you get onboard. They have extremely good onboard security for the cockpit. I'm thinking that this is just simply somebody who flipped out and made a run on the cockpit door, as I said.

LIN: All right. We don't know about what the motivations yet are of this passenger, but because of the nationalistic symbolism of El Al, and taking a look at just what is happening in the Middle East. We've got U.N. inspectors expected to arrive in Baghdad tomorrow to start the process of weapons inspections, a process that could lead to war between the United States and Iraq. You have these messages from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda castigating Israel, the state of Israel and the United States for its, you know, its vitriolic language towards Baghdad and perhaps the intent of war. At this very second, right now, Dan, there is -- there are Israeli gunships firing on Palestinian security posts in Gaza. Some of this could be related to a spate of recent attacks in the West Bank against Jewish settlements. It is a very tense time in the Middle East. How does that play into this equation, or perhaps not?

PAPP: I would be -- until more information comes in, I would be extremely hesitant to put a direct link between this specific incident and everything else going on there. Exactly as you detailed, it is an incredibly tense time in the Middle East.

That having been said, there have been over the course of the last 10 or 15 years at less tense times security incidents with El Al, and with other airlines, as we all know as well. So the danger potentially here is that we might read too much connectivity into everything. So until more information becomes available, I can't make that link.

LIN: Right, and that information is slowly but surely coming in to us. You were talking about the security measures that El Al takes. I mean, El Al actually will do, in order to protect itself, things that American carriers would not.

PAPP: Absolutely.

LIN: Could you be more specific?

PAPP: Absolutely correct. The degree of security that we have when we get onboard airlines now, having occasional body searches, very rarely, extremely rarely in the West, intrusive body searches -- El Al, that's a regular incident, a regular practice with El Al.

Many -- most of El Al's flights are -- will wind up originating from remote spots on airports as opposed to walk-in sites. That helps them in security as well, because of the remote locations.

As I mentioned earlier, the onboard security, the security guards on the planes, strip searches on some occasions that we in most other Western countries just would not accept. That's all part of the El Al security. The interesting thing here, and I've not heard yet, is if this individual, when he made the run on the cockpit, if he was armed. If he was armed, that raises an interesting question. How did something get onboard? But I stress very quickly, we don't know if he was armed.

LIN: Let's just say, not to speculate, but at least to give us an idea of the kind of security you're talking about, if he were armed, given the level of security in the terminal for ordinary passengers, how would it be possible, or what would be the only way possible to get a weapon onboard?

PAPP: Well, that would be, again, recognizing at the outset we're delving into speculation here. There may have been a breakdown on the security entrance. There may have been an accomplice that put something onboard the El Al aircraft. That would be very, very difficult, though, too, because the El Al security -- El Al ground crews are extremely, extremely well screened before they ever go to work for the airline. They are continually screened.

So if I were a betting person right now, again, without having more information, I'd bet that the person wasn't armed, that this was just a guy that, who, as I said before just flipped out. But we'll find out soon, I'm sure.

LIN: I'm just hearing from our control room that there are reports that he may have had a pocket knife. But, you know, Dan, that could be anything.

PAPP: Absolutely correct.

LIN: It could be a pair of tweezers. It could be a mistaken, you know, a mistaken eyewitness report that they saw something flash in his pocket. But that's what we're hearing.

El Al's hiring policies, because it is the Israeli national carrier, I mean, do they have personnel policies? Do they only hire Israeli citizens?

PAPP: You ask a very good question. I do not know the answer to that.

LIN: All right. Because one of the interesting, perhaps, twists in this story is that the suspect is described by Israeli media as an Israeli-Arab. An Israeli-Arab is an Arab who has Israeli citizenship, but not necessarily all the rights and privileges of a Jewish Israeli citizen.

PAPP: Absolutely correct. Absolutely correct.

LIN: And so there's inherent tension there. There's this process of assimilation that they have within the Israeli state, but obviously sympathies towards the Palestinian movement, because they were Palestinians before Israel declared itself a state, and they simply just -- they didn't leave the area; they instead incorporated themselves into the territory.

PAPP: Absolutely correct. And there are many other Arabs in the area as well in what is today Israel that may be of other Arab descent as opposed to just Palestinian as well.

LIN: All right. Dan, thank you very much for joining us today. This is Dan Papp that we're hearing from by telephone. Out of the Atlanta, Georgia area. He's the security expert at Georgia Tech. Thank you very much for your time.

Joining us now on the telephone is Michael Boyd. And Michael, you are with an aviation consulting group?

MICHAEL BOYD, THE BOYD GROUP: Yes, the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colorado. Yes, ma'am.

LIN: All right. What do you make of this situation?

BOYD: I'd have to agree, this looks like probably one crazy person more than an attempt at a hijacking by an organized group. One of the last places you really want to go to try to hijack an airplane right now today if you're by yourself would be El Al. I think we're dealing probably with the human crazy factor more than the terrorist factor.

LIN: Do you believe in coincidences when it comes to the Middle East, though?

BOYD: That's a good point. No. I mean, we don't really know over there, but there's a lot of angry people. Angry people have a certain fringe. This person may have been a part of that fringe.

LIN: It may have been. What do you know about El Al? We were just talking with Dan Papp, security expert at Georgia Tech University, just about the nature of their security operation. If, in fact, this man was able to get a pocket knife onboard, and we don't know that to be a fact yet, how could that be with an airline that has some of the strictest security measures known in the industry?

BOYD: Well, it brings up a very good point. Especially since our own security is probably, you know, in the single digit percentages of what El Al's is. But remember, it could have been a sharp object. I mean, what if the sharp object, it could have been a broken glass, it could have been anything. We're dealing with humans, and humans have been cutting each other since the beginning of time with various objects. So maybe it wasn't a knife that got through. But even if it was, there are other things that person could have used as a weapon on an airplane. I mean, it's just the way, the nature of the game is.

LIN: You know, it's funny now that they don't use metal knives onboard anymore when they serving food; they use plastic knives. But of course, you're thinking anything that can cut through meat can be used as a weapon.

BOYD: Absolutely. I mean, there's people who said you could sharpen your American Express card and use it as a weapon. You can break the crystal in first class and use it as a weapon. As long as we're carrying humans, we're going to find a way of hurting each other. We just have to find ways of minimizing it in the cabin of an airplane.

LIN: All right. So what makes you think that this is not an act of terror, from what you've heard?

BOYD: Only because it was a single person, on an El Al airplane. If it was a real act of terror, I mean, organized terror, there probably would have been some other -- there would have been other people in the aircraft perhaps, or some other attempt other than just trying to storm a cockpit, where you know you have a double door and security guards. So it may have been somebody who wanted to be a terrorist, but I would question whether he's part of Mr. Osama bin Laden's organization.

LIN: Well, you know, Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, you know, just had himself and a pair of shoes and some plastic explosives and a match onboard his flight.

BOYD: Very good point. And there, someone had to be behind him, even though it was an inept attempt. But you bring up a very good point. It could have been just, you know, winding up some of the lower level soldiers in the -- in this mob and sending them out and say, do something. It could have been something like that, but in terms of an organized attempt at real terror, it seems pretty lame at this point.

LIN: Yeah. Well, lame in the sense that, are you saying that because of El Al's reputation for security? We were talking with Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert who was saying it would be virtually impossible to try to hijack this plane, to try to get weapons onboard a flight for an effective hijacking operation. I mean, he implied that it would almost be a suicide mission to try to do anything effective onboard.

BOYD: He's quite right. I would agree with that. So I mean, that would also point to, you know, one disaffected person or somebody very, very low level acting on his own in an organization, because this attempt, judging by what we know already, indicates it wasn't all that well planned out, which would mean we probably didn't have a big organization behind it.

LIN: All right. But what do you make of at least the attempt at a time that the FBI is tracking lots of -- an unusual amount of chatter around al Qaeda cells, conversations on the Internet, and via telephone, these messages now from Osama bin Laden, as well as another statement from al Qaeda, all timed around increased military action in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip? Just today alone, Israeli forces firing on Palestinian security posts there in Gaza as we speak. And then the arrival of U.N. weapons inspectors tomorrow in Baghdad.

BOYD: I don't think we should discount anything at this point. No matter where we are in this country, you know, we are taking nail files from little old ladies at screening check points, but the rest of our infrastructure is pretty much open to infiltration. And we need to really tighten that up as much as we can, because if one person can try to do it to an El Al airplane, take a look at what's in this country and one person could do a lot of damage here.

LIN: All right, Michael. I just want to read to you, as well as to our audience, our own reporting now by CNN, from on the ground and various sources, that during this flight, flight 581, an El Al flight flying from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, a man wielding a knife, so we are now confirming that this man may have been wielding a knife, attempted to break into the cockpit of this Boeing 757-200, but security officials thwarted those efforts.

All right, Michael, I'm going to stand by our reporting. He had a knife onboard.

BOYD: Yeah, he got it on somehow. And again, how big a knife was it? Where could it have been concealed? But I think what it brings up is if that could happen in Israel, when you take a look at the paltry level of airport security we have today, even with all these new people, it means we really need -- we have a long way to go, put it that way.

LIN: A 757, you know, it's described that he -- passengers heard shouting and screaming from rows five and six. I don't know if El Al has first class, but I'm assuming that they do. So he's up towards the front of the plane and he's rushing the cockpit. How much space does he have to maneuver, and how difficult was it for those security guards to grab onto him? And apparently this man was attacking a flight attendant while he was heading to the cockpit door.

BOYD: He had a lot of resistance to get to that door. It's a narrow body aircraft. So it's a fairly narrow aisle. And if you have two security guards, plus flight attendants who are trained, plus passengers, I mean, this guy was trying to break through the, you know, defensive line of the Chicago Bears. I don't think he had any chance at all of getting through, especially with the kind of doors they have on those airplanes on El Al.

LIN: What kind of doors do they have?

BOYD: They normally have double doors, double strengthened doors. It would be very hard to cut -- to knock them down. I know in their wide body airplanes, there's almost like a man trap between -- you go through one door, you close the other one, you get to the other one. I don't know if that's on their 75s, but certainly it is a very difficult place to break into. You probably have a better chance of breaking into an ATM machine than an El Al cockpit.

LIN: All right. Well, we also have a wire report here, information out of Istanbul's Ataturk Airport that flight 581 did manage to send out a hijacking signal as it approached to Istanbul. So the pilots had to be aware that this was going on outside. How would they have known?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: El Al flight 581 took off at 8:00 p.m. today from Tel Aviv and then tried to go into the cockpit. According to Turkish radio and television, the man's name is Terki Pukra (ph), and he carried a knife.

As we all know, security officers kept him onboard. The plane landed in Istanbul safely, and this person is arrested. The passengers are released just now. I didn't have a chance to talk to any of the passengers yet, but I see people waiting for their friends and relatives at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for hours. I can tell that they're very worried because the plane landed safely. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) chief of the police department and his family at the airport. He didn't do any public announcement yet. I'll keep you up with the latest information. This is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), CNN, Istanbul.

LIN: All right. What we are listening to, we just transitioned out of our interview with Michael Boyd, who was with an aviation consulting group, and we are with a CNN producer, Fatih Turkmeniglue (ph), who is actually in the airport or around the airport trying to get eyewitness testimony there.

Apparently, Fatih (ph) is still working the story. But Matthew Chance is joining us now in Jerusalem. Matthew, I know you've been working the story from your end while we're still trying to get some more information out of Istanbul as these eyewitness reports are coming out.

Have officials there in Israel identified who this man is?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, there's been no positive identification from Israeli officials about who this individual was. We've been hearing the same media reports that you have, that he was an Israeli-Arab. But I have to say at this stage that those reports are unconfirmed.

We know that this individual was wielding a knife, we're told, according to the Israeli airport authorities that we've been speaking to. But beyond those details, it's very little is clear about who exactly was involved in this, except the fact that it was just one male passenger.

LIN: Any reports of injuries yet, Matthew?

CHANCE: No. In fact, the Israeli airport authorities that we've been in contact with in Tel Aviv have stressed that it's their understanding, at least at this stage, that none of the passengers were involved in this apparent attempted hijack of that Israeli airliner. They also told me when I spoke to them a few moments ago that the person who allegedly attempted to hijack the -- that individual wasn't injured either, although, of course, Israeli security officers that are in place onboard El Al flights, more or less every one of them, they are armed, I understand, and they do have authorization to obviously use whatever force they deem necessary to ensure the safety of the passengers.

But on this occasion, it seems that they managed to overpower the individual using simply their own bodies.

LIN: Just their own brute force. Matthew, I didn't mean to glance over a pretty significant fact that you had just reported. I just wanted to make sure that we understood the big picture of what happened on the plane first. Now, we are reporting that this man was armed with a knife. Are authorities telling you anything more about that, what kind of a knife, how big it was, how he may have gotten onboard?

CHANCE: No. It's a mystery. In fact, no one here has -- initially people didn't even understand that there was a weapon involved. It's only in the last few minutes or so that we've had confirmed to us by the authorities that we're in contact with that there was a knife involved in this and the man was wielding it in a threatening fashion, attempting, we're told, to hijack the aircraft.

It's not clear where he would have got that knife from whether he tried to get smuggle it on board the plane in this own luggage, in his own pockets, on his own person, or whether he managed to a -- or whether he was using a knife that was issued to him before he said down and had his meal on board the aircraft indeed.

Whatever the case is, there are going to big questions to be answered over this security aspect, because as we've been reporting, people are searched very thoroughly before they get on board, particularly El Al flights. Hand luggage is searched, X-rayed. They even use machines to try and detect whether luggage has been in contact with any explosive material, and on top that you get a lot of questions from security officers of the Israeli government to try and asses whether you are a genuine passenger. Passengers are advised to arrive at the airport some three hours in advance of a flight on a regular basis...

LIN: Right.

CHANCE: ... in order to undergo these very stringent security checks.

LIN: Right, absolutely, and so stringent, Matthew, that the American method that we see at our American airports -- pale in comparison. So, it would be certainly shocking to Brian Jenkins, our security expert we just had on, a terrorism expert who knows the procedures of El Al very well. He would be utterly shocked, it would almost imply that this person had to have some sort of inside help in order to get a weapon on board, but as you're saying, we don't know what kind of knife it is. It could have been one that he was given, a plastic knife even, that he was given while they served a meal on board.

Matthew, thank you very much, Matthew Chance reporting live from Jerusalem right now. We want to go straight to Ben-Gurion Airport, that is the airport in Tel Aviv from where this flight departed from. CNN's Jerrold Kessel has been doing some reporting there on the ground. Jerrold, what are you hearing there about what happened tonight?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Real calm here at Ben-Gurion Airport, and in fact El Al (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a calming damper on the situation, but they are saying in a statement they just issued in the last minutes that this was a hijack attempt, that's the way they're describing it.

They say that all 170 people aboard this El Al flight, which left after 8:00 p.m. local time this evening bound for Istanbul are safe and well, that the flight has landed safely, but that they are describing a hijacked attempt to an Arab they're calling it -- an Arab of Israel -- with an Israeli passport, that is the way the El Al statement is coming out now, and that he has tried to hijack the plane with a knife, with a knife -- with a pen knife -- there it's -- the Hebrew terminology, and we don't know the exact size of that knife, or in what condition or how he came by it, as Matthew was reporting, there are very stringent security measure in place at this particular airport.

But, El Al statement says that the security officials aboard the plane, we know that El Al does have sky marshals of its own -- armed sky marshals aboard all its flights, overpowered the man quickly, and that there was no other commotion is the way the El Al statement puts it about this incident. All other El Al flights are landing, and taking off safely, and according to schedule, according to the El Al statement, other than the return flight, which was supposed to take off in about -- just about now, in Istanbul, and is -- and according to the statement has been delayed for now.

But, El Al trying to say that as they get under way, the security inquiry is how the knife got on board, how the man got on board with the knife, or where he came by the knife, that inquiry under way. We understand not just from El Al, but also from the airport security officials, the airport authority itself.

The spokesman telling me just a few minutes ago that that inquiry is already under way.

LIN: All right, Jerrold, officials out of Istanbul, at the airport there are calling this man a terrorist -- this hijacking suspect. Have the Israeli officials there characterized him, or what they think that this attempt may be about?

KESSEL: No, they're not saying anything other than the wording that I used before, that he was an Arab carrying and Israeli passport, and that he had tried definitely -- they do the word -- hijacked the aircraft, but no further than that characterizing the motive, or the absolute intent beyond the hijacking itself, or what he intended to do, nothing in that regard.

LIN: All right, Jerrold, I'm going to ask for a brief analysis from you, given the mood in the Middle East right now with U.N. inspectors going into Baghdad tomorrow, already military activity over the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian West Bank territories, Hebron being reoccupied by Israeli forces, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, prime minister there talking about linking settlements now in the West Bank, perhaps displacing hundreds of Palestinians out of there homes in the West Bank -- given that environment has anybody there ascribed anything to the timing of this attempted hijacking?

KESSEL: No, I don't there's not -- the situation is volatile enough even without all these latest events that we've had. Both the shooting in Hebron, where the 12 Israelis were killed on Friday evening, on the Sabbath evening, Israel's strong counter measures since then.

Of course, the situation has been volatile in various aspects for the last months, and its got periodically even more heated. But, I think, we have to put this into context, of course we don't know the exact motive of this incident, and it is interesting if it is indeed an Israeli Arab Citizen who has carried out -- if it was indeed a hijacker -- serious hijack with an attempt with -- that went beyond a personal motive, then it will have very serious ramifications with it.

But, I think to bare in mind at all times, that this is what we characterize and to the Iraq time in the Middle East, that everybody knows that everything falls into place, as volatile as things are, into the fact that the United States is still pressuring Saddam Hussein's Iraq, that the U.N. inspectors are about to go in, that's the fundamental issue, and I don't think either the Israeli's or anybody who is involved in any which way, with the United State's activities wants to heat the situation up any more than necessary, or any more than they feel they're absolutely bound to do -- so, as not to get into way of this Iraq time.

LIN: Right, and Jerrold, you point out that something very important in the big picture of things that whatever happens with the Palestinians is always going to color any action in other Arab state in the region; so, obviously the tone and mood there playing into our coverage always of whatever happens in the Middle East.

Jerrold Kessel, thank you very much, reporting via telephone from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, where this a -- this plane -- the El Al flight originated from.

Very quickly, just in case you're joining us, there was an attempted hijacking of the Israeli national carrier, El Al, flight 581, with 170 passengers on board. We are getting wire reports in of the chaos on board, and we are now just beginning to hear from the passengers themselves, this what they're saying at the Ataturk Airport, where they landed safely in Istanbul.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Israeli and one to catch all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Israel to Istanbul. She try to catch -- to catch some steward (ph), and then want to go in the cockpit -- but, two of or security are catch him in a moment.


LIN: All right, that was a little hard to understand, but I think what he was describing is what we've been reporting to you about the activity on board, what we understand about this flight, it was a 757, we had an aviation expert with us just a few minutes ago who was talking about how narrow that passage way was, and from what we understand this attempted hijacking -- the suspect was sitting toward the front of the plane around row five or six.

All of a sudden passengers were hearing shouting from the front of the plane as this man apparently tried to rush the cockpit door, attacking a flight attendant on route, when security guards jumped up and where able to tackle him in the isle, and in order for this to happen, you know, in a very narrow space, and we're not hearing of any other injuries, it's remarkable, but even if he were to reach the cockpit door, what we know about El Al security, extraordinary security on board, not only do they have armed guards, clearly visibly armed guards on board, but the cockpit door is doubly reinforced, doubly reinforced, almost virtually impossible to impregnate.

Jerrold Kessel standing by at Ben-Gurion Airport. Jerrold, we just heard a snippet from one of the passengers, and boy, I have to -- my hat is off to him, because he was very calm in describing the scene on board, and you're saying that things are relatively calm at Ben- Gurion, despite what sounds like a security violation, because this man had some sort of a pen knife with him. KESSEL: Well, I think you're absolutely right, it is surprising how calm it is, but that's I guess because most the people are landing and taking off from here now, there are quite a lot of flights just landed, and others are probably taking off in the early hours of the morning, which is coming into now -- most people not that aware of it. But I, having spoken to the officials of both El Al and the airport authority here at Ben-Gurion International Airport, I -- they are putting -- they are calm, and the tone of the announcement put out by El Al was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the sense of calm that everything was normal.

But beneath it, I think you can know that they're not at all calm, and already its one of the officials of these authorities said to me, the inquiry is already under way, to try to ascertain how this knife got on board, whether the man was able to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it on himself or in other -- in another way.

But there are, I think, worth pointing out that it is, they are using the term a knife, a pen knife, the Hebrew terminology, now, but that could characterize something that could be several inches long, or even longer than that. It's not quite clear what the weapon was of this man that he was attempting to use, but as we heard from the passenger there, and El Al is saying that he was an Israeli citizen, and Arab-Israeli. That's an interesting development, which the Israelis are very interesting to check out -- very interested in checking out.

LIN: Right, and Jerrold, we've talked about this a little bit with some of our security analysts, but I'd be interested in getting your take on this, especially for our domestic audience, we've been explaining that a Israeli-Arabs are actually Palestinians who grew up in the state of Israel who their families did not leave that area when Israel declared itself a state back in 1948. They have citizenship, Israeli citizenship, not necessarily all the rights and privileges of an Israeli Jewish citizen, but nevertheless, very much a part of that society.

KESSEL: Yes, it's a very, of course, things have taken different turn in the last two years since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada over the last two years, ongoing ferocious battles that have been waged between the Palestinians and Israel, and Israeli-Arab citizens are in a sense, in many ways, caught between, because they do have of course. They have intense sympathy and sentiment with the Palestinian people as to some Israeli Jews as well, but that they are caught in that predicament most of being both Palestinians with families, with the relatives, with sympathies for the Palestinian court, that's more than anybody else, and yet being Israeli citizens as well...

LIN: Jerrold, I...

KESSEL: And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Israeli citizens for the main part.

LIN: Right -- Jerrold, I'm going to interrupt you very quickly, because I want to explain to our viewers the pictures that they're seeing right now of those men walking in, one of them was the suspect, and we are talking about Israeli-Arabs, because Israeli media has been reporting that the hijacking suspect is an Israeli-Arab. So, I wanted to explain that those are the were the pictures that we were just getting in. Thank you for your patience as we're going to put this video on as quickly as possible, and we're going to try to re-rack that so you get a better picture, and maybe we can even pick out who exactly the suspect is.

I know, Jerrold, you can't see it, because this is not currently airing on CNN International -- so, I can't quite make out which, if any, between the security officers, and the men there, is the suspect.

KESSEL: I think we should point out right away that, you know, drawing only kind of general conclusions about Israeli (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would be not only incorrect, but morally wrong, because we don't know the circumstance, we don't know the individual, we don't know in what circumstances, whether it was private motive, or what does have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) political motive, that it very possibly could have, this hijacking attempt. All we do know is that there was attempted attack on the flight.

LIN: And there we see the vehicle holding the suspect, driving into some sort of garage. Jerrold, I'm just wondering, where is -- where is likely the questioning of the suspect to take place, and who would be doing it?

KESSEL: Now, that is really a very interesting question, because there is, the fact that this was -- landed up in Istanbul, was headed to Istanbul is of course of great interest, the fact that Turkey and Israel have very, very close ties on a number of levels -- political, and security -- and no doubt had this incident ended up somewhere else, had the man attempted to hijack the plane and then landed up in another country, perhaps in Western Europe, it would have been more of a complication for the Israelis to be able to question him themselves, and I think the cooperation with the Turkish authorities will be very close indeed, because the Turks themselves are wary, very wary indeed of any kind of attacks, terror attacks, or what have you that might take place against their airline or against their state, and I think that the fact that there is likely to be a good deal of cooperation between Turkey -- Turkish and Israeli officials on this mess, be one issue which alleviates the real concern that the Israeli officials and the El Al are feeling right now, at this incident.

LIN: Do you expect him to be brought back to Israel, though? We just froze a picture, by the way, where you see the suspect. He appears to be dressed in light blue there, standing between two security guards, he's looking toward the camera, as he's being taken into custody, but by what I presume are Turkish airport officials to be held for questioning.

KESSEL: I would guess, given the fact that it took -- if this is indeed what it's being projected now, as a hijack attempt on an El Al flight, the fact that it took place aboard the El Al flight while it was in mid air, suggests that Israel will probably ask the Turkish authorities that it has jurisdiction of the a -- over the intended attacker and guessing from the part, that gives really no more than a guess, I think the Turks will probably comply with that, and allow the Israelis to have the ultimate say in the a -- in what happens with the judging of the man, the questioning of the man, and so forth.

LIN: Jerrold, what is your understanding of how that questioning -- how they go about that questioning, who does the questioning -- how vigorous can that questioning be, what are some of the tactics that they can use to extract information from him?

KESSEL: Well, you know, this is an unusual case, because Israel hasn't been involved for a long time in an attempted -- hijack attempt of this nature, and in the past when there've been attacks on El Al, it's been in the nature of a literally of a terror attack of a shooting, and so forth, and hasn't been really a question of having to question the attacker.

So, it is a novel here -- now, that's not the case of Israel having the experience over the last couple of years, particularly of for instance suicide bombers who have been apprehended on their way to attack inside Israel, or have been all failed in their objectives and were either injured or caught while they were trying to carry out their attacks, and then they are very vigorous interrogations carried out.

In fact, the Israeli's have gone through good deal of agonizing over the last several of the nature of interrogating someone whom they all a ticking a bomb. Well, this case it isn't a ticking, we presume from what we know of the, of the incident, and that the man was disarmed of his knife, but I guess there will be some very thorough questioning of whether was an individual act, or whether he was linked to some kind of a broader plan.

LIN: Right, and how that knife got on board to begin with, Jerrold Kessel. Thank you very much, Jerrold Kessel, our very own, out of our Jerusalem bureau, reporting live by telephone, from Ben- Gurion Airport, from where this story originated -- just a little more than three hours ago.

As Jerrold has been talking about, this hijacking suspect, apparently was trying rush the cockpit door on this El Al flight, he was armed with what has been described, or translated from Hebrew as a pen knife. We don't know how large, we can't really characterize the weapon beyond that, but it is extraordinary given El Al's history, its level of security, the lengths that they will take in order to protect its passengers that he would manage to get any sort of weapon on board.

CNN's Miles O'Brien takes a closer look at El Al.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... or any other airport that El Al services, three hours before departure they are interviewed by trained security personnel. Among the questions: Who paid for your ticket? Why are you traveling, and when did you book this flight? During the extensive interview, ticket holders will also be psychologically evaluated; their entire makeup judged -- mood, body language, everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will decide what kind of a passenger I am, if I could go through this way, or I could go through the other way.

O'BRIEN: The information is then sent on by computer to international intelligence agencies like Interpol, or Scotland Yard, for instant evaluation. If there are any lingering doubts, the passenger won't be allowed on the plane.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, each and every El Al plane around the globe is carefully guarded. The plane needs cleaning, or food service, guards are watching -- whether there are passengers on board or not.

All pilots flying for El Al have flown in the Israeli air force, and are professionals in weaponry in and hand to hand combat. However, one El Al official tells CNN, pilots do not carry guns in the cockpit. There isn't a need. Two bulletproof doors activated by a keypad from inside the cockpit act as a barrier between those flying the plane, and the cabin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want the pilots to be fighters. We want them to stay in the cockpit, in case of emergency, land in the nearest airport, and leave the air marshals, that are really professionals.

O'BRIEN: On board every El Al flight, there are at least two undercover air marshals seated among the passengers. They dress in plain clothes and are armed; licensed to shoot and kill in situations where time is of the essence.


LIN: The Israeli national carrier, ready for just about everything, and proving it so tonight as El Al security forces on board flight 581 managed to tackle a man as he was rushing the cockpit door, armed with a pen knife, screaming and shouting, attacking a flight attendant, no injuries reported so far, among the 170 passengers on board. That man now in custody, and certainly being questioned vigorously, likely to be extradited back to Israel; that happening about three hours ago.

We have correspondents covering this story like no other network. We've got people in Jerusalem, we've got people in Tel Aviv, we've got people on the ground in Istanbul, getting eyewitness testimony. We're going to have much more coverage on this story, so please stay right there.


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