SAN MATEO, Calif. -- A man with ties to the San Francisco Bay Area and Yemen was wrestled to the floor of a San Francisco International Airport-bound airliner Sunday night by crew members and passengers after trying to smash open the locked cockpit door with his shoulder, according to federal court documents.
Federal authorities filed a criminal charge of interference with a flight crew Monday against 28-year-old Rageh Almurisi, who was traveling with a Yemeni passport and a California ID that says he lives in Vallejo. An FBI spokeswoman said he is due in federal court Tuesday.
Almurisi was arrested by local authorities aboard American Airlines Flight 1561 shortly after it landed around 9:15 p.m. and taken to San Mateo County jail. He was turned over to U.S. marshals Monday morning, said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. The incident occurred the same day as several airline security scares and at a time when there is heightened scrutiny of mass transit following the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Almursi reportedly screamed "God is great" in Arabic while pounding on the cockpit's locked door and yanking its handle. After an alarmed flight attendant called for help, other crew members and a handful of the 156 passengers aboard came running. Among those who pinned Almurisi to the floor were a retired San Mateo police officer and an off-duty American Airlines pilot, officials said.
San Mateo police declined to identify the retired officer but said they were proud one of their ranks had been involved. American Airlines officials couldn't immediately say Monday where the off-duty pilot lives.
American Airlines spokesman Ed Martelle said Almurisi was seated in the rear half of the airplane but strode to the front moments before the trouble started. A flight attendant in first class saw the man approaching and presumed he was looking for the restroom.
When Almurisi allegedly began pulling on the cockpit door handle, the flight attendant thought he was confused and tried to show him to the bathroom. At that time he started shouting and pounding on the door, Martelle said.
Officials said there was no indication that the incident had anything to do with a terrorist plot. However, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes local, state and federal authorities, is investigating the incident.
Almurisi got on the plane in Chicago after taking a connecting flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport. His final destination was San Francisco.
(c) 2010, San Mateo County Times, Calif.
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