- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

The White House is standing by federal agents who fatally shot a man threatening to ignite a bomb at the Miami International Airport; however Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco called the actions an example of “paranoia” and is demanding an explanation.

Rigoberto Alpizar, a Costa Rica native who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and was an American citizen, was fatally shot by two air marshals after claiming to have a bomb in a backpack, then bolting from an American Airlines jet Wednesday.

The White House says the federal air marshals responded correctly, although no explosives were found and Mr. Alpizar might have suffered from a mental condition.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see it come to a situation like this. But these marshals appear to have acted in a way that’s consistent with the extensive training that they have received,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The shooting was the first by the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) to defend an aircraft since the agency became part of the Homeland Security Department in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks. The number of agents dramatically increased from 30 marshals to more than 2,000 agents who guard against airline terrorist attacks on 25,000 daily flights.

Mr. Pacheco suggested that the U.S. is suffering from mental anguish and said the marshals were being paranoid.

“We are going to request an explanation, but we know they are going to respond that the United States is a country threatened by terrorism and that the man said that he was carrying a bomb,” Mr. Pacheco told the Monumental radio station.

“It was a painful event, but you have to understand the level of paranoia under which the Americans live regarding terrorism,” Mr. Pacheco said.

Several FAMS agents and other federal law-enforcement officers confirmed to The Washington Times yesterday that the marshals followed agency procedures.

“I think they performed precisely as they were trained to do,” one of the air marshals said.

Dave Adams, FAMS spokesman, said marshals receive training to deal with abnormal behavior and unruly passengers as well as facing violent threats.

“Just because someone has a mental illness, they are still capable of detonating a bomb,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Alpizar arrived at the Miami airport just after noon on American Airlines Flight 932 from Ecuador, and at 2 p.m. boarded Flight 924, which had arrived from Colombia and was continuing on — after the Miami layover — to Orlando, where Mr. Alpizar lived in a nearby community.

Mr. Adams said Mr. Alpizar was seating in the rear of the plane, then “ran forward, yelling he had a bomb in his backpack.”

Marshals ran after the man and ordered him to stop and lay on the ground several times in the jetway between the plane and airport. The officers yelled the orders several times, but Mr. Alpizar began moving toward the officers, holding the backpack in front of him and again told the marshals that the bag contained a bomb.

After Mr. Alpizar refused to comply several times and reached into the bag, both officers shot him in the head and chest.

Mr. Alpizar’s wife, Anne, told witnesses that her husband suffered from a mental condition. Witnesses said she chased after the marshals yelling that her husband was mentally ill, but Mr. Adams and another passenger say she never left the plane and mentioned her husband’s illness after shots were fired.

One passenger told Fox News that he did not hear Mr. Alpizar say he had a bomb, but the passenger did not say where he sat in relation to the marshals, who were close to the cockpit.

Both marshals are on standard leave pending an investigation by the Miami/Dade Police Department. Both officers work out of the Miami field office and have been with the FAMS since 2002. Both had previous federal law-enforcement experience and one spoke fluent Spanish.

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