A passenger who allegedly tried to ram a cockpit door with his shoulder on a San Francisco-bound airplane Sunday night was charged in federal court today with the crime of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. Rageh al-Murisi, 28, is due to make an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate James Larson in San Francisco at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on the charge filed by federal prosecutors. Al-Murisi, who holds a Yemeni passport and a California identification card, was subdued by flight attendants and passengers after he allegedly sought to open the cockpit door of an American Airlines flight from Chicago as it neared San Francisco International Airport. He was arrested by San Francisco police when the plane landed at 9:12 p.m. The crime of interfering with flight crew members and attendants carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison upon conviction.
An affidavit filed with the criminal complaint by Federal Air Marshal Paul Howard gives more details of the incident, as described in an interview Howard held with the purser, or chief flight attendant. Howard wrote that the purser said that at about 8:50 p.m., al-Murisi left his seat near the rear of the plane and walked to the first class section. The purser saw al-Murisi approach the cockpit door and try to enter the cockpit by manipulating the door handles, Howard said. The purser at first thought the passenger was looking for the restroom and told him twice that the restroom was to his left. “The purser stated al-Murisi then made eye contact with him, lowered his left shoulder and rammed the cockpit door,” the affidavit said. The purser was able to get between al-Murisi and the door, but “al-Murisi kept yelling and pushing forward in an attempt to open the cockpit door.” “The purser grabbed al-Murisi and called for help,” Howard wrote. Several passengers responded and restrained al-Murisi as he “repeatedly attempted to break free and return to the cockpit door,” the air marshal said.
San Mateo Police Sgt. Michael Rodriguez said earlier today that the purser was aided by another flight attendant and two passengers who were former law officers — a retired U.S. Secret Service agent and a retired San Mateo police officer. The flight attendants and retired officers wrestled al-Murisi to the floor and put him in plastic handcuffs, Rodriguez said. After being arrested, al-Murisi was treated at San Mateo Medical Center for abrasions, Rodriguez said. No other people aboard the plane suffered injuries. At his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday, al-Murisi will be informed of the charges and asked whether he has a lawyer. If he does not have a lawyer, he will be given a court-appointed attorney.
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