Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The whole LAX El Al shooting story is getting weirder and weirder. The Americans want to categorize it as something other than an act of terrorism, presumably because they want to take credit for U. S. security leading to a terror-free Fourth of July. The Israelis want it to be categorized as a terrorist and anti-Semitic act by an Islamic fundamentalist, as that supports the general Israeli view that the Israelis are victims of the same terror that the Americans experienced on September 11, and that the war on terror should be a war against the Palestinians and Saddam Hussein (the Israelis already have the gunman connected with al-Qaeda and Hamas - soon they'll probably find he is Arafat's long lost son!). The joker in all this is that there was apparently a call made to CNN while it was live on the air by a fan of the Howard Stern radio show. This was part of an inside joke, and depended on the description of the shooter given by the hoaxer (an overweight white male with a pony-tail) matching the description of the comedian who is the butt of the joke (the joke is that the shooter was shooting in frustration as his spot as a comedian on the Howard Stern show had been taken by another comedian named 'Artie'). Credit is now being taken for actually misleading the press with this joke, and fooling the reporters into reporting that the shooter was an overweight white man with a pony tail, when actually, as we are all supposed to know, it was a immigrant who was Egyptian and devoutly Islamic. Fear of being made fun of for falling for the hoax has made people wary about thinking about what really happened. Here is what we know:

  1. One original report was that the gunman was white, pony-tailed and aged 52, and that his identity was known. This report is not confused by the 'Artie' hoax, as it makes mention of it. Hadayat, the supposed shooter, was 41, not likely to be confused with 52 (where did the 52 come from?). It mentions that there had been a dispute about identification documents before the shooting. It also says that one theory being explored was that the man was a disgruntled airport worker.

  2. An early report said the police had two people in custody. Another report stated: "Byron Tucker, a spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis, said one person was arrested, but FBI spokesman Rich Garcia said it appears the gunman acted alone." Since the gunman was dead, if one person was arrested, there may have been two people involved.

  3. Another report is similar, although the gunman is described as being 52 years old, although he had no identification with him. Presumably they determined his age by cutting him in half and counting the rings.

  4. Yet another report contains the prank information as fact, and apparently doesn't realize that it has been fooled.

  5. Another report, again before the shooter was identified, described him as middle aged and in a business suit with dark complexion, and raises the issue that the gunman may have been involved in an argument over his identification documents in the moments before the shooting started.

  6. Another report says that the gunmen may have had an accomplice, according to the LAPD.

  7. An important account contains the following: "Ralph Rodriguez, a spokesman for Mexicana Airlines, whose ticket counter is adjacent to El Al's, said that a Mexicana supervisor had overheard the gunman having a heated argument at the El Al counter, apparently involving his documentation. Soon afterward, the shooting started, Rodriguez said."

  8. One report says the gunman was the fourth person in line at the ticket counter for El Al when he started shooting. He was armed with a .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock pistol, a 9 mm handgun and a 6-inch knife.

  9. Another report says the shooter was only shot dead after he was disarmed and being held down on the floor, a report that is also reflected in this graphic. Is it normal to shoot the assailant after he has been disarmed and is being held down? I guess it saves a lot of money in trials.

  10. Another report refers to a witness, Robin Berglund, who told CNN he heard 8 to 12 gunshots — a short burst followed by several more shots. When he looked over the balcony edge, he saw three people down, including a middle-aged man in a suit surrounded by security people.

  11. Another report contains a statement by a witness: "There were a number of plainclothes policemen who pulled out guns and their badges at the same time."

  12. The shooting is eventually blamed on a 41 year-old man named Hesham Mohamed Hadayet

I'd be a little curious about the prank caller. Did he make up the funny story and call the whole thing in to CNN immediately upon hearing there was a shooting? Or did he make it up when he heard that the shooter was a pony-tailed white man, made the connection in his mind to the identity of the subject of his joke, and then called it in? In other words, the fact that the hoaxer managed to add false data to the report doesn't necessarily mean that the original untainted reporting didn't refer to a pony-tailed white man. The official story looks like this. Predictably, Hadayet's wife cannot explain his actions. Here is my wild conjecture:

  • Hadayet is called to make a pick up at the El Al ticket counter.

  • The minute he walks in to the area, a white man with a pony tail pulls out a gun and starts shooting.

  • The target of the shooting is either a specific person who would be at the ticket counter at that time (remember the diamond importer had come to the airport to drop someone off for a flight - it is not impossible that he was set up to be there at that time) or the business of El Al itself (I can see a blackmail scheme being set up by the mafia - or should that be mafiya? - where El Al has to pay protection money for its ticket counters not to get shot up).

  • In the confusion, Hadayet is also shot by the gunman or by someone else.

  • The gunman is supposed to escape, but doesn't count on such a quick response from security, and is killed. It is also possible that an accomplice is arrested and released.

In the current climate of paranoia, Hadayet makes a great patsy, and all manner of wild Islamic ideas can be ascribed to him. The stories make it clear that the guns have been registered to Hadayet, and the original picture we see of him is supposed to have come off his gun licence, but these things can be lied about or faked. There are some obvious unanswered questions:

  • What was the whole story behind the prank call?

  • What was Hadayet wearing when he was killed? If he wasn't wearing a suit, why is the shooter described as wearing a suit? If he wasn't wearing a suit, where did he hide all his weapons and ammunition?

  • Was there a second person involved, a person who may have been arrested?

  • Where did the idea that the gunman was 52 come from, especially as he wasn't carrying identification and Hadayet was 41? Looking at his picture, would you describe him as a middle-aged man?

  • If Hadayet was working in Los Angeles while his family vacationed in Egypt, why would he be having an argument about his documentation at an El Al ticket counter?

  • Who were the plainclothes policemen who pulled out their guns and badges at the same time? Were these just the El Al security agents?

  • Was it necessary to kill him when he was on the ground being restrained and apparently disarmed? A lot of evidence was destroyed when he died.