AN ALLEGED ISIS fanatic accused of sabotaging a plane with 150 people on board to cause a “catastrophic disaster” will remain behind bars.
American Airlines mechanic Abdul-Majeed Alani allegedly glued a piece of Styrofoam inside the nose of a plane, but the problem was detected just before takeoff, a court has heard.
A federal judge cited new evidence of potential terrorism sympathies in denying bail for the mechanic who prosecutors say could have caused the Nassau, Bahamas-bound plane to crash with 150 passengers and crew aboard.
Alani, 60, had expressed a desire for Allah to hurt non-Muslims, stored violent ISIS videos on his cellphone and has a brother in Iraq possibly involved with the extremist group, according to new evidence unveiled at his bail hearing on Wednesday.
“You may be very sympathetic to terrorists,” Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley told Alani at the hearing, adding, “that’s very disconcerting.”
Alani is a naturalised US citizen from Iraq who has worked as an airline mechanic for 30 years, with no prior criminal record.
“LINKS TO ISIS”
He’s not charged with a terror-related crime, but Assistant US Attorney Maria Medetis said the potential links to ISIS give rise to the possibility that his actions had a darker purpose beyond what he insisted was a labour issue.
Alani is charged with sabotaging the airliner at Miami International Airport in July because, he told authorities, ongoing labour negotiations were jeopardising his chances at earning overtime.
He’s accused of disabling a critical navigation component on the Boeing 737.
Alani told agents after his arrest earlier this month that, “out of my evil side, I wanted to do something,” Medetis said, adding that his statement was recorded by the FBI.
Alani, who did work overtime to help fix the plane, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the charge of “willfully damaging, destroying or disabling” an aircraft used in commercial aviation, or trying to do so.
The sabotage involved gluing a piece of Styrofoam inside the nose of the aircraft that effectively disabled a component pilots depend on to gauge such things as airspeed plus the pitch of the plane.
Authorities say the problem was detected just before takeoff, when an error message appeared on a screen in the cockpit and the jet returned to a gate.
Airport surveillance video showed Alani working on the aircraft’s nose compartment for seven minutes, even though there was no repair issue with the plane, reports news agency the Associated Press.
Prosecutors allege that Alani, in a statement to them, said he wished that Allah would use “divine powers” to harm non-Muslims.
He had videos on his cellphone depicting ISIS mass murders he shared with others, they told the court.
Other evidence revealed yesterday included that Alani had recently sent a £560 (US$700) wire transfer to someone in Iraq where he has extended family and that he travelled to Iraq in March, but did not disclose that to authorities after his arrest.
What you did with this aircraft was highly reckless and unconscionable.
Judge Chris McAliley
Alani’s lawyer Christian Dunham said that as an experienced mechanic he knew the sabotage would keep the aircraft from flying and, even if it did take off, there are redundancies built in that would have kept it safe.
Dunham added: “We don’t think they are going to be able to prove he intentionally put people in danger.
“The plane would have been fine to fly.”
He asked the judge to allow the mechanic to be released on £160,000 ($200,000) bail.
But McAliley imposed pretrial detention, saying that Alani – who is no longer employed by American Airlines – is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
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She also noted that Alani admitted his actions to investigators and that the evidence overwhelmingly points to his guilt.
The judge added: “What you did with this aircraft was highly reckless and unconscionable.
“Certainly there was a risk of a catastrophic disaster. I think it is likely you will be convicted.”
Alani is expected to enter a plea at another hearing tomorrow.