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January 9, 2003

$58 Million Sought in 2 Slayings at LAX

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/58_million_sought_in_2_slayings_at_lax_20030110

The city of Los Angeles has been hit with claims of more than $58 million, stemming from the deadly shooting rampage last July 4 at Los Angeles International Airport's El Al check-in counter.

Killed in the attack were two Israeli Americans, Yaacov (Jacob) Aminov, a 46-year-old owner of a jewelry distribution company, and Victoria (Vicky) Hen, 25, who had worked as an El Al ticket agent for less than two months.

They died in a hail of bullets fired by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian immigrant, who opened fire on passengers waiting in line. He was killed within seconds by an El Al security guard.

Claims by the Aminov family and companions total more than $38 million, while the parents of Hen are asking for $20 million.

Beverly Hills attorney Richard I. Fine, representing the Aminovs, charged in his complaint that the city had failed to provide any police presence at the terminal and that it took officers 15 minutes to respond to the shooting.

Should the city reject the claims within the 45-day deadline, Fine said he would bring a lawsuit in federal court. The case could be expanded to target Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization and tap assets frozen by the U.S. government.

Shortly after the July 4 attack, the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat, published an article indicating that Hadayet had met with Bin Laden's top aide in 1995 and 1998.

Of the total of $38.5 million in claims in the Aminov case, $10 million is earmarked for Aminov's widow, Anat, and $17 million for their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 10, all North Hollywood residents. In addition, Anat Aminov, who was three months pregnant at the time of her husband's killing, cited the loss of her unborn child.

A further $3 million claim is on behalf of the victim's three children in Israel from his first marriage.

Compensation for emotional trauma and loss of income was sought by four San Fernando Valley residents: Arie Golan, who wrestled the gunman to the ground; Michael Shabtai and Moti Harari, who stood next to Aminov and barely missed injury or death; and Harari's 6-year-old daughter, Shiran, who, for her safety, was thrown by her father over the counter, where she landed on top of Hen's body.

Attorney Stephen Jamieson, representing Avi and Rachel Hen of Chatsworth, cited "unsafe and dangerous" security conditions at the airport -- despite the heightened alert following Sept. 11 -- and also inadequate medical care in the wrongful death of their daughter, Victoria.

Airport officials declined comment, but the Los Angeles Daily News reported that security had been beefed up since July 4 by the addition of 60 uniformed officers to complement the 240 existing airport police.

Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, said the claims had just been received and no comment would be forthcoming until they had been reviewed and analyzed.

The FBI has not issued a final report on the case, to the frustration of the victims' families and Israeli officials, who view the shooting as a clear act of terrorism. From the beginning of the case, FBI spokesmen and the Israeli officials have been at odds on how to label the shooting and on Hadayet's motives.

Yuval Rotem, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, asserted within hours of the shooting that "from the way the attack was conducted, the way the gunman skipped dozens of other foreign airlines, our experience tells us it was terrorism."

The FBI has taken a more cautious approach. The day after the shooting, FBI Special Agent Richard Garcia said, "We are not ruling out a hate crime, we are not ruling out terrorism completely, and we are not ruling out that it may have been a random act of violence."

The direction and slow pace of the investigation was criticized by New York Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel, who complained that he was "deeply troubled by the FBI handling of this case in its immediate aftermath."

Relatives of the slain victims also expressed their unhappiness with the investigation.

Ofra Bacher, a sister of the widowed Anat Aminov, said that the July 4 attack was "obviously an act of terrorism. The gunman came to a specific terminal at a specific hour to kill. He couldn't have come for anything else."

Aminov left behind no insurance or savings account, said Bacher, adding, "Anat was a homekeeper since her marriage, and now she has to handle everything herself. It is very difficult, and she is surviving through the help of her family."

An FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles said last week that the results of the local investigation had been sent to headquarters for evaluation.

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