Another shooting of a alleged terrorist like the London shooting of Charles de Menezes?????
Fatal shooting by air marshal 1st since post-9/11 enforcement Officials followed procedure, homeland spokesman says
Amy Driscoll, Lesley Clark and Trenton Daniel Knight Ridder Newspapers Dec. 8, 2005 12:00 AM
MIAMI - The shooting of a Florida man returning from a church trip to South America who said he had a bomb in his backpack was the first time an air marshal shot at a passenger or suspect since the government stepped up the presence of the law enforcement officers on planes after Sept. 11, 2001, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.
The shooting took place within earshot of other horrified passengers, who reported hearing multiple shots fired. Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, a U.S. citizen from Maitland, Fla., died on the scene. He had arrived in Miami from Quito, Ecuador, earlier Wednesday with a woman officials believe was his wife.
Just before the shooting, passengers reported seeing the man running wildly down the aisle of the plane with a woman in pursuit yelling that he was "sick."
Passenger John McAlhany, in Seat 24-C, said the man "came running from the back."
"He must have been doing 1,000 miles an hour," McAlhany said. "He knocked over stewardesses."
McAlhany, a Sebastian, Fla., construction worker on his way home from a fishing trip in the Keys, noticed the man acting erratically during the boarding process.
"When we got on the plane, he got off, then came back on with his wife," McAlhany said. "He didn't look stable."
Law enforcement officers surrounded the plane after the shooting. Inside, McAlhany said passengers were ordered to crouch under their seats. He said that when he tried to pop up for a look, a flight attendant ordered him to get back down.
He said the man apparently left a backpack on the plane, adding that the other passengers were treated roughly when law enforcement boarded the plane after the shooting.
"They put a gun to the back of my head and said, 'Put your hands on the seat,' " he said. "That was more scary than anything else."
He said the passengers were taken off the plane and confined to a conference room "with a lot of other people."
The plane had arrived from Medellin, Colombia, and was to depart for Orlando at 2:18 p.m., but the flight, American 924, was subsequently canceled, according to the Orlando airport's Web site.
"None of the other 113 passengers onboard were affected or were ever in any danger. This was an isolated incident," the airline said in a news release, adding that it would have no other comment.
The marshals "followed procedure by the book," said Brian Doyle, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.
Alpizar's brother-in-law, Steven Buechner, said he was a native of Costa Rica and met Buechner's sister, Anne, when she was an exchange student there. Relatives said the couple had been married about two decades. Neighbors described Alpizar as a pleasant man who worked in a home-supply store.
Associated Press contributed to this article.
Marshal's actions get mixed reviews
Keith L. Alexander Washington Post Dec. 8, 2005 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Wednesday's shooting death of American Airlines passenger Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami International Airport by a federal air marshal was cited by some congressional leaders and air security experts as the first successful - if deadly - example of the government's ramped-up commercial airline security efforts.
But others said that opening fire on passengers who threaten airline travel could lead to even worse consequences for bystanders.
"This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House transportation subcommittee on aviation. "This should send a message to a terrorist or anyone else who is considering disrupting an aircraft with a threat."
Prior to Wednesday's shooting, Mica said there remained further debate in Washington on whether the program should be expanded.
But some security experts question whether killing the passenger - whose wife, according to other passengers, said he was mentally troubled - was justified.
Federal air marshals are not trained to negotiate with suspected terrorists, Mica said, especially passengers who claim they are carrying an explosive device, as Alpizar said Wednesday. Mica said the marshal acted appropriately.
"Air marshals don't have time for counseling or interviewing passengers. They have to make split-second decisions based on the current threat," Mica said.
In the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, numerous lawmakers and airline industry officials participated in congressional hearings that led to expanding the federal air marshal program through additional hiring and training.
At that time, there were 33 air marshals monitoring 30,000 domestic flights a day. Now, following the congressional push, several thousand marshals ride on both domestic and international flights.
Aviation security consultant Douglas Laird of Laird & Associates said shooting a suspect who claims to be carrying an explosive device could cause a greater threat to passengers if that suspect detonates the bomb after being shot.
"It's a terrible call," said Laird, a former Northwest Airlines security director.
Wednesday's shooting was yet another example of why the air marshal program should be expanded through additional training and staffing, said Jon Adler, national executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, an organization made up of 24,000 law enforcement officers, including 1,300 air marshals.
Adler said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, a greater emphasis was placed on defensive tactics and marksmanship in air marshal training. Although Adler said the marshal in Wednesday's shooting acted "appropriately," he added that greater training is necessary.
"It's a continued effort," Adler said.