Cuba-bound jetliner hijacked to Miami Lebanese national uses fake bomb

no one is hurt

July 27, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MIAMI -- An Iberia Airlines DC-10 en route from Madrid, Spain, to Havana was diverted here yesterday by a man brandishing a tinfoil-wrapped package that he claimed was a bomb. The man was arrested without incident after the plane landed at Miami International Airport.

None of the other 218 passengers and 14 crew members on board was injured.

"He had a hoax device," said Paul Philip, a spokesman for the FBI in Miami who identified the suspect as Saado Ibrahaim, 27, a Lebanese national.

With heavily armed FBI agents and Dade County police surrounding the plane, Ibrahaim emerged from the plane with his hands in the air about 30 minutes after Flight 6621 touched down. He was immediately taken into custody, and whisked by car to FBI headquarters.

Philip said Ibrahaim would be charged with air piracy, a federal offense that carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

"He said he wanted to come here, not to Havana," Philip said in a news conference on the airport tarmac. "He got his wish. He's here -- under arrest."

The hijacking of the routine Madrid-to-Havana flight came less than 24 hours after President Clinton announced tough new security measures for U.S. airports in the wake of the explosion July 17 of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, N.Y.

The midafternoon landing of the Iberia jet caused a stir in Miami, where traffic backed up on freeways near the airport, some commercial flights were diverted to other Florida airports and Cuban exiles noted the date of the hijacking.

In Cuba, July 26 is a national holiday, the anniversary of the 1953 attack by Fidel Castro's rebel forces that signaled the start of the revolution.

But the hijacking apparently had nothing to do with Cuba.

A Spanish government spokesman in Madrid said the Lebanese man left Beirut on Thursday and arrived in Madrid after a stop in Zurich, Switzerland.

He had escaped from a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, according to Spanish Foreign Affairs spokesman Inocencio Arias.

Security officials at Barajas Airport in Madrid detected nothing unusual about the flight before it left for Miami, the government's news service, Efe, reported.

The package alleged to be a bomb turned out to be a tape recorder and wires covered with foil, said government spokesman Francisco Garcia.

According to Garcia, Ibrahaim said: "If I put these two wires together, the bomb will blow up." He also threatened the crew with a letter opener, Garcia said.

Philip was reluctant to describe in detail the device wielded by the suspect. But he did say that "one could construct something that looks like a bomb with stuff you could legally take on a plane."

The control tower at Miami was alerted to the hijacking about 1: 30 p.m., and about an hour later federal negotiators spoke to the man from the cockpit.

"He told us what he wanted," Philip said. "He said he wanted to surrender. And that was fine with us."

After touching down in Miami minutes before 3 p.m., the plane was directed to a remote aircraft holding section of the airport called "the penalty box."

Within 30 minutes, the suspect emerged from the plane with his hands raised as the passengers stayed in their seats as instructed.

The aircraft was to depart for Cuba after drug and bomb-sniffing dogs checked out all the luggage and cargo aboard.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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