The lawyer for a man accused of trying to break down the cockpit door of a San Francisco-bound flight while yelling “God is great” in Arabic says his client is not a terrorist and had a psychological breakdown mid-flight.
The Muslim faith the man practices is absolutely against violence, and he rejects al-Qaida and its philosophy, attorney Chris Morales said.
Rageh Ahmed Mohammed Al-Murisi, a 28-year-old high school math teacher from Yemen, pleaded not guilty in federal court on Friday to one felony count of interfering with a flight crew, a charge that can carry up to 20 years in prison.
He is being held in federal lockup at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
Al-Murisi had only been on a plane twice before boarding American Airlines Flight 1561 on May 8, Morales said, and was emotionally distraught over events the attorney declined to go into.
Morales also declined to explain why Al-Murisi yelled “Allah akbar” or approached the cockpit during the flight, saying only that it has to do with his mental health issues.
Morales denied the suggestion by prosecutors that Al-Murisi might have wanted to crash the plane.
In a prior hearing, a federal judge said a pretrial services report indicated Al-Murisi had been hallucinating and hearing voices in the months before the incident.
Prosecutor Elise Becker has said Al-Murisi, who has family in Vallejo, had an argument with his boss in New York several days prior to paying cash for the ticket and taking the trip, which began at La Guardia Airport with a connection in Chicago.
He brought no checked or carry-on bags, Becker said. He carried only $47 in cash, several valid and expired California and New York ID cards, an Apple USB charger, sunglasses and two post-dated checks from his former employer totaling $13,000.
The checks were repayment for a loan Al-Murisi had given his former boss to make repairs at the convenience store where they worked, Becker said.
Shortly before the flight landed, Al-Murisi allegedly got up from seat 26C, near the back of the plane, and walked briskly to the cockpit before ramming it with his shoulder. He is accused of yelling “Allah akbar,” repeatedly as a flight attendant and passengers restrained him with plastic handcuffs and a belt.
Morales acknowledged that the incident, which occurred days after Osama bin Laden was killed, must have been traumatizing for passengers.
“I am sympathetic to passengers on the plane,” he said. “It must have just scared everyone.”
Al-Murisi will return to court for a hearing on June 23.