A federal judge denied bail to a former American Airlines mechanic who is accused of sabotaging a plane carrying 150 people in Miami in July, saying the mechanic may be “sympathetic to terrorists.”
The mechanic, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, 60, admitted to federal agents that he tampered with the Boeing 737-800 at Miami International Airport on July 17, forcing the plane to be grounded before takeoff, according to court records. He said he was upset about an impasse over a union contract and wanted the flight to be delayed or canceled so he could get overtime work.
He was arrested Sept. 5 and charged with willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
At a bail hearing Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Alani, of Tracy, California, had videos on his cellphone that showed mass murders committed by the Islamic State, The Associated Press reported. Prosecutors also noted that Alani had said that he wished that Allah would harm non-Muslims and that he has a brother who lives in Iraq who may be involved with ISIS.
“You may be very sympathetic to terrorists,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley said at the hearing, according to the AP. “That’s very disconcerting.”
Alani has not been charged with any terror-related crimes. Federal prosecutors did not answer questions about the case Wednesday evening.
A lawyer for Alani, Christian Dunham, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.
Dunham said in court that prosecutors would not be able to prove that Alani, an experienced mechanic, intentionally put people on the plane in danger, according to the AP.
Alani is a United States citizen with no prior criminal record who worked as an airline mechanic for 30 years, the AP. reported. American Airlines fired him Sept. 7.
Dunham asked for Alani to be released on $200,000 bail raised by relatives and American Airlines co-workers, but McAliley said Alani was a flight risk and might be a danger to the community, according to the AP.
On July 17, the day of the flight, Alani tampered with the air data module system on Flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau in the Bahamas, investigators said in court documents. The system, located in a compartment beneath the cockpit and near the nose landing gear, keeps track of an aircraft’s speed and pitch as well as other critical flight data.
As the Boeing 737-800 was approaching the departure runway and powering up its engines, the crew got an error message and aborted the takeoff, according to the documents.
Security camera footage showed that Alani had used a piece of foam to obstruct the module system, investigators said. They said it was unusual for Alani, who normally worked in a hangar for disabled aircraft, to be in the area of the plane.
A Pitot tube, used to determine airspeed, a measurement vital to controlling the plane, was also loose, investigators said. Ice buildup in a Pitot tube’s intake led to the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic.
Two days after the July flight, American Airlines’ corporate security reported the suspected sabotage to the FBI, according to court records.
The TWU-IAM Association, which represents 30,000 of the airline’s employees in union negotiations, said in a statement Sept. 6, the day after Alani’s arrest, that “any conduct that jeopardizes that safety is not tolerated or condoned by the leadership or members of our organizations.”