SAN FRANCISCO – A Yemen native accused of trying to barge into the cockpit of a San Francisco-bound American Airlines flight will remain in federal custody while his mental state will be evaluated, a judge ordered Friday.
Rageh Al-Murisi poses a risk of not appearing in court and is still a danger to the community, U.S. District Judge James Larson said at a hearing to reconsider a defense lawyer's request to grant bail.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk argued that Al-Murisi was mentally unstable and needed out of custody treatment. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Elise Becker said that while Al-Murisi may need a mental evaluation, he still poses a "significant threat and risk" to society.
"The allegations are very serious," the judge told Al-Murisi. "We will do everything we can to get you treatment."
Al-Murisi faces one count of interfering with the flight crew members and attendants for allegedly trying to open the cockpit door twice as Flight 1561 was preparing to land Sunday night from Chicago.
Al-Murisi, 28, repeatedly yelled "Allahu Akbar" — "God is great" in Arabic — before and after he was subdued by crew members and several passengers including a former Secret Service agent and a retired police officer, authorities said.
He could spend up to 20 years in prison, if convicted. Sunday's incident occurred one week after the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the U.S. military, an event that has raised fears of a possible retaliation.
Falk argued on Friday that Al-Murisi is not involved in any terrorist activity and said FBI checks show that he "is not tied to any terrorist cell."
"Is this just a sad mental health case?," she said, urging the judge to grant Al-Murisi outside treatment from a mental health care provider, have electronic monitoring and be under 24-hour supervision with family members. "Get this man the help he appears to need. We want to get him the best treatment we can, as fast as we can."
Becker said that while Al-Murisi may need mental help, the government must ensure the public's overall safety.
"The only way to make sure he does not endanger more lives is to detain him," said Becker, adding that Al-Murisi's family did not know he was coming to California and has provided no evidence that they can control his actions.
Earlier, Becker told the judge that Al-Murisi paid for a flight from New York to Chicago with cash and did not have any luggage or carry-on items. She said he also had $47 in cash and two postdated checks totaling $13,000 believed to be from his employers in New York.
Al-Murisi held jobs as a taxi driver and worked in several convenience stores in Manhattan, Becker said Friday.
She said that Al-Murisi apparently had an argument with a convenience store owner and quit his job a few days prior to coming to California. She said employers interviewed this week thought that Al-Murisi was "troubled."
Becker also said that after Al-Murisi was restrained and taken off the plane on Sunday, he tried to bite and head butt one of the police officers. He also continued to say "Allahu Akbar," as well as "You can't kill me!" Becker said.
She added that when Al-Murisi was later interviewed by authorities, he said he wanted to kill himself. When asked why, he replied, "It's natural."
Larson said he also made his decision based on a pretrial report that said Al-Murisi had hallucinations and had been hearing voices in his head for at least the past two months.
Neither Falk nor Becker raised that in their arguments.
After the hearing, Ahmed Almoraissi, a cousin of the suspect, said the family was disappointed with the judge's ruling.
"We just want to help him," Almoraissi said.
Al-Murisi is next scheduled to appear in court on May 23.
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