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Passenger Subdued While Trying to Storm Cockpit of El Al Flight

Aired November 17, 2002 - 17:36   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And now more on what happened in the skies over Istanbul today. Officials report a passenger tried to storm the cockpit of an El Al airlines flight heading to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. The attempted was thwarted by security guards onboard the plane. The latest now from Matthew Chance in Jerusalem. Matthew, why don't you give us a quick recap of how this started and what happened from there.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the details we have right now that security officials who were on board the El Al flight managed to overpower a male passenger who they say was trying to hijack that Israeli airliner, flight 581, El Al flight 581 en route from Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion Airport to the Turkish city of Istanbul. But we understand from El Al officials that the individual involved was an Arab with an Israeli passport, we're told, which would make him, of course, an Israeli-Arab among the community of Palestinians who stayed in the Israeli state after that state was formed in 1948.

We have confirmation that he was wielding a knife. That confirmation coming to us, again, from Israeli airport officials that we've been in contact with. Passengers say he was attempting to storm the cockpit on that El Al flight, a Boeing 757, attempting to storm the cockpit, wielding a knife, when he was overpowered by those two security officials. Of course, El Al places sky marshals who are armed on board every one of its flights. We now know that that individual, that Arab with an Israeli passport, is being interrogated by Turkish police at Istanbul airport.

LIN: Matthew, do you have any idea of are you hearing any idea of how he could have gotten this what has been described as a pen knife -- Jerrold Kessel was saying that the translation from Hebrew worked out to be pen knife, which implied something that's relatively small but still potentially dangerous. How did he get it on that plane?

CHANCE: Difficult to say, because El Al, as we've been reporting, has some of the most stringent security checks towards passengers of any airline operating in the world today. Luggage is checked not just through X-ray machines, but often people who try to get on El Al flights, passengers, and I have experienced this myself, have to get on the plane -- before they get on the plane, they have to take out everything in their luggage, turn out their pockets, are checked physically, of course, by individuals at the airport, and not just that. Also, they're given intense questioning by Israeli security officials to try and determine what the intentions of each passenger is, whether they are indeed a genuine traveler or whether they may have some kind of ulterior motive.

Those stringent security checks, of course, now will be a focus, I expect, of some investigation into how this individual managed to get a pen knife on board the aircraft -- Carol.

LIN: That's right. Matthew, when you talk about some of the questioning that takes place at the airport, I mean, for example, when I went through there, they said, why are you here? I said, I'm a journalist to cover a news story. They said -- they wanted to see my CNN credentials. After that, they wanted to see my business card. Then they wanted to know if I knew the number to the Jerusalem bureau. They're incredibly thorough, and they not only look for the answers, but they actually look for your attitude, your body language, your mood, anything suspicious to grab on to.

CHANCE: That's right, and they have no qualms whatsoever about making passengers miss their flights if indeed they're not absolutely convinced that your reasons for travel are genuine and you do not have any ulterior motive. Security is paramount for these people, not least because in their minds, the Israeli national airline, El Al, is a prime target for terrorists wanting to commit -- people who want to commit terrorist acts aboard aircraft.

LIN: Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, reporting live from Jerusalem. Thank you.

All right, let's go to Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. That's where CNN's Jerrold Kessel has been reporting this story through the night. Jerrold, is airport security any tighter, any different as a result of what happened tonight?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From what we can gauge, it all seems to be running very smoothly. And I think El Al were at pains to put out in their statement saying that things are functioning normally. And I think that's the demeanor that they're striking and they certainly seem trying to adopt that pose of saying it is everything is usual. But behind that, you do hear, not only from El Al but from the airport authority here that officials say already, as Matthew was saying, there will be an inquiry. They're saying an inquiry is already under way.

I don't know what form it's taking, but clearly in addition to the questioning of the man itself who has apprehended at Istanbul, Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, here at Ben-Gurion Airport, the officials are starting to trying to piece together how it's possible that this man came to be in the possession of the knife, of the pen knife, whether he got it through himself, or whether he came by and passed through one of those number of the airport metal detectors through which all passengers must, of course, pass through when they're going aboard any flight, not only, of course, from this airport, but from airports around the world.

Here, the normal questioning takes place both before one books in one's luggage at the check-in counters, and then afterwards, coming through the -- after passports and customs control, through the regular security and the checks, which might include a body check as well, up -- up -- before the departure through the departure gates -- Carol.

LIN: No measure too strict for the Israeli national carrier. Thank you very much, Jerrold Kessel, reporting live from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

We're still gathering much more information on the ground, including eyewitness testimonies coming out from the passengers who were actually on board that flight. We have got a producer on the ground in Istanbul, and as soon as we have more on this story, we're going to bring it to you.



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