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Jewish Journal

Happiness Turns to Grief

A shooting at the El Al ticket counter at LAX destroys two Israeli American families and tests homeland security.

by Tom Tugend

July 11, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Passengers and airport personnel wait in an area of the Thomas Bradley International Terminal at LAX on July 4 following shooting near the El AL ticket counter. Three people died and several were injured disrupting the air traffic in one of the busiest travel days in the United States. Photo by Hector Mata/AFP

Passengers and airport personnel wait in an area of the Thomas Bradley International Terminal at LAX on July 4 following shooting near the El AL ticket counter. Three people died and several were injured disrupting the air traffic in one of the busiest travel days in the United States. Photo by Hector Mata/AFP

Last Friday was to have been one of Victoria "Vicky" Hen's happiest days. As a surprise, her boyfriend, Yaron Cohen, had planned to formally propose marriage to the 25-year-old Israeli American.

Instead, her parents, Avinoam and Rachel Hen, and her younger brothers, Nimrod and Udi, spent the day planning her funeral service, which took place Sunday afternoon.

As a descendant of the priestly Cohen caste, Yaron was forbidden by Jewish law to attend the chapel services or the graveside rites at Eden Memorial Park, but he told family friend Joseph Knoller, "Vicky was my whole life. I expect that at any moment she will walk through the door with her beautiful laugh and smile."

Hen, who had worked as an El Al ground hostess for only two months, and Ya'akov Aminov were shot and killed July 4 by Egyptian-born Hesham Mohamed Hadayet as passengers were lining up for El Al Flight 106 from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. The attack occurred at Los Angeles International Airport's Tom Bradley Terminal.

Among the El Al passengers was Mika Walden, 25, the granddaughter of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, returning to Israel after an extended stay in Los Angeles. Her uncle, Yoni Peres, who lives here, told The Journal that Walden had been in the duty-free shop when the shooting occurred. She left for Israel the next day.

So far, U.S. authorities have been cautious about characterizing the attack as anything but a shooting carried out by an individual, although Israeli officials say the attack resembles previous acts of terrorism against El Al and Jewish targets. Coming as it did on July 4, and against Israelis and Jews, the attack looks and feels like terrorism, Israeli officials said.

However, spokesmen for both countries joined in praising the heroism of two El Al security guards, whose quick response is credited with saving the lives of many other passengers.

In a detailed reconstruction of the attack, FBI spokesman Matt Mclaughlin said that Hadayet, armed with a .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock pistol, a 9mm handgun and a knife with a 6-inch blade, opened fire while standing about 20 feet from the El Al check-in counter. He was immediately tackled by an unarmed El Al security guard, whom Israeli authorities declined to identify, and an Israeli bystander, 54-year-old Arie Golan.

A second guard, Haim Sapir, chief of El Al security in Los Angeles, jumped over the counter, joined the fray and killed Hadayet, apparently with a single shot from his pistol. However, Hadayet managed to inflict a superficial gunshot wound and two stab wounds on Sapir, and cuts and bruises on the other guard. Sapir was treated at a local hospital and then released.

McLaughlin said Hadayet continued to struggle after he was shot. "Even a man who has been shot in the heart has 20 seconds or more left to shoot back, and that's apparently what Hadayet tried to do. It's not like in the movies, where a man falls over and dies the moment he is shot." Hadayet apparently fired 10 shots from his semiautomatic pistol, but was prevented from inserting a fresh magazine by the quick actions of the security guards, McLaughlin said.

"The actions of the security guards were those of heroes," he added. "They kept advancing at the risk of their lives, and that's a true definition of heroism."

Also injured in the attack was Sarah Philips, a 61-year-old Canadian, who was shot in the ankle and underwent surgery in a local hospital.

Hadayet, 41, described as a powerfully built man about 5 foot 10 inches and between 200 and 250 pounds, ran a limousine service out of his Irvine home. The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that he had filed an application for political asylum shortly after arriving in the United States in 1992, just weeks before his six-month visitor's visa was about to expire. Although asylum was denied, the application and subsequent appeal in 1996 enabled Hadayet to obtain temporary residency and a work permit, according to the Times.

The situation lasted until August 1997, when his wife won legal residency status for the family in a visa lottery. The Arab-language newspaper Al-Hayat, published in London, reported Sunday that authorities were investigating whether Hadayet had met with Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top aide, in the United States in 1995 and 1998.

The chief spokesman for the Arab American and Muslim communities in Southern California has condemned the deadly July 4 attack at an El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport by Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet.

"We condemn this heinous crime and offer condolences to the families of the victims," said Dr. Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California and adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Hadayet has been described as a devout Muslim, but Hathout said that a check of mosques in Orange County, where Hadayet lived, had not turned up any evidence of his participation in services or any person who acknowledged knowing him.

"We expect the FBI to fully investigate whether the attack was a personal or organized crime and whether Hadayet had any terrorist tendencies," Hathout said.

He added that the attack had kept the local Muslim community on edge, and that he hoped the public would not jump to conclusions before authorities finished their investigation.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has posted a condemnation of the attack on its Web site.

The attack renewed discussions on whether passengers should be screened even before entering airline terminals. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn has submitted a $9.6 billion redesign proposal for LAX that would require everyone coming to the airport to go through screenings at a remote site before boarding trains to the terminals.

At the same time, the attack again alerted Jewish organizations and institutions to review their security measures, although the impact on the community has been less traumatic than the shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) three years ago, which triggered a frantic demand for stricter security.

"I think almost everyone has been security conscious since the NVJCC shooting, which was a real wake-up call," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "But obviously, as the El Al incident shows, we cannot afford to let down our guard."




Remembering the Victims

Victoria Hen had a special love for and rapport with children, said family spokesman Joseph Knoller.

A fund to endow a children's library in Los Angeles has been created and contributions can be sent to the Vicky Hen Memorial Fund, 23277 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

A fund has also been established to support Aminov's pregnant wife, Anat, and their five children, who range in age from 2 to 9. Contributions can be sent to the Aminov Fund, Yad Avraham, 12426 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607.

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