Activist Rabbi Pressing Ashcroft On LAX Attack
07/18/02
Staff Writer
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Charging that the FBI is being compromised by political concerns, activist Rabbi Avi Weiss is seeking a meeting with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to discuss why the July 4 shootings at Los Angeles International Airport have not been classified a terrorist incident: in apparent neglect of the Justice Department's own guidelines. "It comes down to the FBI not classifying what is clearly a terrorist act as terrorism, and that is placing Americans at risk," Rabbi Weiss told The Jewish Week. "They are allowing their investigation to be compromised by politics, and we are asking for a meeting with Ashcroft." Rabbi Weiss, the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, said he wants to discuss his concerns with the nation's top law enforcement officer before filing a lawsuit against the FBI forcing it to designate the killing of two Israelis at the EL AL terminal by an Egyptian Muslim businessman as a act of terrorism. "The reality is with all good work the FBI does, there's a certain arrogance they have, and one of the ways to force them to pay attention is to go through the court," Rabbi Weiss said. Atlanta civil rights attorney David Schoen, who is representing Rabbi Weiss, said a lawsuit would charge that the FBI is failing to protect the Jewish community by minimizing the terrorist threat, perhaps to prevent a backlash against the Arab community. "I'd say the public has the right to be informed about the imminence and the reality of the risk to a Jewish group," he said in a phone interview. "If the FBI is not protecting them, private security arrangements have to be made." FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley said Monday that incident is still under investigation. "It's not that we have not classified it as a terrorist incident." The Jewish Week reported last week that it appeared the FBI was ignoring its own code for defining terrorist incidents in the El Al case. Several American and Israeli counterterrorism experts said it was clear to them that the attack by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian Muslim limousine service owner from Irvine, Calif., fit the agency's own definitions contained in its code of regulations. Israeli leaders and some American Jewish groups have labeled the attack terrorism because it targeted facilities representing Israel [El Al] and America [an airport]. Hadayet, an immigrant who according to news reports hated Israel, was armed with a 9-mm handgun, a .45 caliber handgun, extra ammunition, and a six-inch knife when he approached the El Al station at LAX and opened fire. Killed in the attack were Victoria Hen, a 25-year-old ticket agent who was to become engaged the next day, and Jacob Aminov, a diamond importer and father of eight. Hadayet was shot dead by El Al security guards. Like other critics, Rabbi Weiss warned that the FBI seems to turn a blind eye to an incident seemingly committed by a lone individual, preferring to label as terrorism acts that are readily tied to organizations or which clearly involves a conspiracy. This is a mistake, the critics say, pointing to the failure of the FBI to treat several incidents, particularly the 1993 murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane, as a terrorist act. It turned out later that Said Noseir, the Egyptian gunmen jailed in the killing, had ties to the Islamic terrorist cell responsible for the 1993 attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. Documents in Arabic found in Noseir's home contained clues to the bombing conspiracy, but law enforcement officials had failed to translate them for years. Schoen said he was drafting a letter to Ashcroft this week to pursue a meeting. Schoen said he was concerned that the Bush administration may be pandering to the American Muslim community, noting the recent controversial meeting between FBI Director Robert Mueller and the American Muslim Council, which has praised the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. "Maybe this is part of a pattern," he said. According to the Code of Federal Regulations of the U.S. Justice Department, terrorism is defined as "... the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Schoen said that while suing the FBI is generally not difficult, this case is more complicated because he would be asking the court to require the bureau to "follow their own regulations, which a court could say is a discretionary matter." He said a potential lawsuit would charge that the bureau is failing to protect the Jewish community. "When you have an identifiable target, the Jewish community at large, and one recognizes certain steps ought to be taken to protect it, and if those step are not taken, it creates a risk and possible actual damage to the community," he explained. "I'm not suggesting the FBI made a conscious decision to expose Jews to danger. But we can say that certain political considerations seem to be outweighing security considerations at a time when the latter ought to control the former." Rabbi Weiss noted that he sued the FBI in 1995 when it failed to inform him he was mentioned as a potential target of New York area Muslim extremists. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Hadayet's limousine business was on the verge of collapse. It also reported that Hadayet had left behind an upper-class family in Egypt when he moved to the United States 10 years ago on a six-month tourist visa. He overstayed his visa, worked illegally as a cab driver, and later bought a limousine before he knew how to drive it, the newspaper said. He avoided deportation when his wife won a lottery for permanent residency. In recent months, he couldn't keep up with his liability insurance and his wife began asking neighbors for baby-sitting work, the Times said.

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