Passenger prayer spurs security alert on LA flight
Monday, March 14, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Pilots on an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles locked down the cockpit and alerted authorities Sunday when a flight crew grew alarmed at the behavior of three men who turned out to be conducting an elaborate orthodox Jewish prayer ritual, officials said.
The men, all Mexican nationals, began the ritual that involves tying leather straps and small wooden boxes to the body, and the crew of Flight 241 alerted the cockpit, airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.
“Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant saw what she believed was unusual behavior from three passengers on board,” Egan said in a statement. “The three passengers were praying aloud in Hebrew and were wearing what appeared to be leather straps on their foreheads and arms.”
The cockpit was placed on a security lockdown for the rest of the flight — meaning the door couldn’t be opened even for pilots to leave briefly. Normal protocol calls for the cockpit to be locked, but on longer flights the pilots will leave and return from the flight deck.
FBI and customs agents along with police and a full assignment of fire trucks met the plane at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport, and the men were escorted off.
After questioning from the FBI, the men were released without being arrested. They continued in their travel which took them overseas, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told City News Service. Eimiller said she could release no further information because the men were not charged with anything.
Egan said airline officials later learned from law enforcement the men were performing the ritual known as tefillin.
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