MIAMI — A veteran airline mechanic was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for sabotaging an American Airlines jetliner with 150 people aboard in a bid to earn overtime fixing the plane.
In sentencing 60-year-old Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said she found no evidence to support allegations that Alani had links to the Islamic State extremist group or any terrorist organization. Those allegations had surfaced in previous hearings.
“The indictment doesn’t charge anything related to terrorism or terrorist activity,” Cooke said. “I don’t see anything.”
Alani is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Iraq who had been an airline mechanic for 30 years. Prosecutors said he has a brother in Iraq who may be involved with the Islamic State group and that Alani had made statements wishing Allah would use “divine powers” to harm non-Muslims. There were also Islamic State videos found on his cellphone, they said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Hummel said investigators found “no linkage” between Alani and any extremist groups.
“I do think the evidence suggests extreme recklessness,” Hummel said.
Court documents show the sabotage involved gluing Styrofoam inside the nose of a Boeing 737 at Miami International Airport so that it disabled a component pilots use to monitor things such as airspeed, altitude and the pitch of the plane. Authorities say if the flight had taken off as planned July 17 for Nassau, Bahamas, the sabotage could have caused a crash.
Instead, the pilot saw an error message while the aircraft was on the runway and returned to the terminal to have the problem examined.
“I firmly believe that the deliberate tampering … of my aircraft would have exposed my passengers and crew to a higher level of danger had the aircraft gone airborne,” the pilot, Richard Shafer, said in a court filing.
Many of Alani’s actions that day were captured on surveillance video and he was identified by fellow workers. His attorney, Jonathan Meltz, said the mechanic’s goal was to keep the aircraft on the ground so he could work overtime to fix it, which he did. Meltz said Alani was in dire need of money for his children’s college expenses and other needs.
“The intent for Mr. Alani to have committed this act was solely financial,” Meltz said.
Alani, in chains and dressed in a tan jail outfit, did not speak in court. But in a letter to the court, Alani said he was “truly sorry” for his actions.
“I knew better and I am better than what I did,” he wrote. “There is no excuse for what I did and I am so sorry.”