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Suspected Attempted Hijacking of an Al Italia Flight

Aired November 27, 2002 - 11:14   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to update you on our breaking news from this morning, a suspected attempted hijacking of an Al Italia flight. We have learned a little bit more about the man who is in custody right now, the suspected hijacker, 29-year-old Italian national. CNN's Alessio Vinci reporting live from Rome with more on the suspect on the telephone. Alessio.
ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi. Well, we understand that the 29-year-old Italian, according to Italian officials, are telling us that he has already a history of mental illness, and that he had spent some time in a psychiatric hospital here in Italy.

And apparently, according to Italian officials, in 1999, he attempted to hijack a Marseille to Paris flight in France, back then as well a failed attempt. And the question of course now is how a person with this kind of history was allowed to board an international flight.

We also heard -- learned -- a little bit more about what happened on board from the Italian officials. They are telling us with this kind of remote control and making some statements that were linked to Osama bin Laden or sympathizing with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group, the man forced the pilot to land the plane at the Lyon airport in central France. And therefore, once the plane taxied off the end of the runway, according to Italian officials, he let everybody come off the plane and he then at the end came out himself alone. And that's when the French police officials and the French authorities in Lyon arrested him.

We do understand as well that no one was hurt during this bizarre ordeal, if you want, but the question remains on how a person with a mental history and a history of having already attempted to hijack a plane was able to board an international flight.

LIN: Alessio, what are the safeguards against that? I mean, would they have had to check his passport and would there have been a record attached to that?

VINCI: Well, definitely if you board an international flight here in Europe as well as pretty much everywhere in the world, you have to give your documents. And we have nothing to suggest that this man may have given either false name or had any kind of documentation that would falsify his identity. Pretty much like anywhere else, after the September 11th attack, the authorities here in Italy have stepped up security at airports, especially at check in. There is no debate, however, here in Italy, on whether air pilots should carry guns or whether the cockpit -- the door to the cockpit should be reinforced.

LIN: Do you know if he actually had a bomb?

VINCI: Well, we do not believe that he had a bomb. Italian officials are just telling us he had this remote control. It wasn't clear of course when the plane was still airborne whether this device was connected to any kind of bomb. And we understand from French officials that they have already carried out an initial search of the plane and they haven't found any suspicious device.

LIN: All right. So it sounds like what you're learning so far, just to recap and to make sure that I understand what happened on board, that he had this sort of box or remote control device which suggested he may have had a bomb and then he jumped up and started making some sort of statement about al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

VINCI: That is correct. And I think that these kind of statements linked with the fact he was holding this remote control were obviously taken seriously enough by the cabin crew to basically get in touch with the pilot and basically fulfill the demand of the hijacker, would be hijacker,, which was to land the plane and therefore, once the plane landed, however, there was no further negotiations with French authorities. The man simply, once the plane taxied at the end of the runway, allowed everybody to come off the plane, and eventually came out himself without being forced to or any kind of -- you know, there was no kind of storming or no kind of extra security operation that was ongoing while he came out of the plane. And then the French police basically apprehended him without harming anybody.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Alessio Vinci. A lot more information than we had even just a few minutes ago. Alessio Vinci reporting by telephone, live, out of Rome, on the latest of this attempted -- what they think is an attempted hijacking by this 29- year-old Italian national with a history of mental problems, carrying some sort of remote control like box, which may been a bomb, though they didn't find any explosives on board so far, uttering something about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and forcing the pilot to land the Alitalia flight in Lyon, where he released all of the passengers and then stepped out himself, where he was arrested.


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