- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

When Egyptian immigrant Heshem Mohamed Hadayet approached the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport on the afternoon of July 4, he was clearly bent on murdering as many people as possible. Hadayet, who was armed with two guns and a knife, opened fire on a group of people lined up at the counter, killing two persons and wounding seven others before being slain himself by an El Al security officer.

Shortly after the attack, FBI officials made a series of statements that seemed to downplay the possibility that Hadayet's bloody rampage could have had anything to do with terrorism. "He was not on any FBI or FAA watch list," the FBI's Richard Garcia said Friday. Bureau officials have also suggested that the attack may have been a "hate crime," putting it in the category generally used to describe actions such as the racially motivated murder of James Byrd, a black man, who was tied to a car and dragged to his death by white hoodlums in Texas, or the highly publicized slaying of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual, in Wyoming.

It would certainly appear that Hadayet's loathing for Israel was an important motivating factor in his decision to target El Al. Hadayet "had hate for Israel, for sure," Abdul Zahab, a native of Syria who worked for Hadayet's limousine service, told the New York Times. "He told me that the Israelis tried to destroy the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian population by sending prostitutes with AIDS to Egypt."

But none of this is inconsistent with the reality that, based on the information made public thus far, Hadayet was also a terrorist, not just a thug who enjoyed preying upon people who looked or acted differently from him. The U.S. Code defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets." Clifford May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has noted that unless law-enforcement authorities come up with evidence that the attack was a bungled robbery or an act of revenge by a fired employee, the El Al attack "must be assumed to have been an act of terrorism."

Boaz Ganor, director of Israel's International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, said that it took more than two years after the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane before authorities learned that assassin El-Sayyid Nosair was also involved with the terrorist cell responsible for the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Initially, police viewed Nosair as a lone assassin. It was only after the arrest of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman that police carried out a thorough search of Nosair's home and found documents revealing plans for the WTC attack. "It is more than conceivable that the 1993 bombing would have been averted if the Kahane assassination had been treated as a terrorist act and not as an isolated case by a lone gunman," Mr. Ganor told the Jerusalem Post. "That is why definition of a crime is, in my opinion, an extremely crucial issue."

The accurate definition of a crime is no mere semantic exercise. It can have critical implications that could help prevent future attacks. That's something law enforcement will need to keep in mind as it goes forward with the El Al probe.

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