Friday, December 7, 2001
Federal Jury Convicts Immigrant Who Made Anti-American Threat on Airplane of Interferring With Flight Crew
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
An Iranian national who witnesses said made an anti-American threat on an Air Canada flight was convicted by a federal jury in Los Angeles yesterday of interfering with a flight crew.
Javid Naghani, the 37-year old Iranian national and owner of Cleaning of America, a janitorial service located in Los Angeles, was convicted on one count of interfering with and intimidating the flight crew aboard Air Canada flight 792, traveling from Los Angeles to Toronto Sept. 27.
The jury took about two hours to reach the guilty verdict.
Naghani faces a maximum of 20 years in prison when sentenced next March in Los Angeles. He is being held without bond at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
“Certainly we were pleased with this afternoon’s verdict,” U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said. “This type of crime carries very significant ramifications due to the potential for disaster when a passenger on a jumbo jet compromises the crew’s ability to maintain safety.”
In the prosecution’s closing statements, an assistant U.S. attorney told the jury there was overwhelming evidence that that the defendant’s actions caused panic and anxiety aboard the flight and caused its escort back to Los Angeles by F-16 fighter jets.
Naghani denied that he said “I will kill all Americans” while aboard the flight on which he was traveling with his wife and dog.
Witnesses said the threat came after the smoke alarm went off and the defendant was caught in the bathroom smoking a cigarette, the prosecution said.
The defendant’s attorney, Theodore Flier, said the overreaction of the flight crew caused the flight to turn around and that the defendant did nothing that intimidated or interfered with the flight crew. The defense maintained that after being caught smoking, Naghani said “Do you know who I am? I am the President of Cleaning of America” and not “I will kill all Americans.”
Flier said the defendant’s only crime was smoking on an airplane—”a very stupid decision”—and the heavier charges resulted from racial profiling, since the defendant is Middle Eastern and the alleged threats took place after Sept. 11.
Two Air Canada flight attendants denied that they targeted him because he was Middle Eastern.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Yang said in her closing statements that Naghani was not a victim of racial profiling and that he should be convicted based on his interference with the flight crew.
“That plane was supposed to take over 130 people to Canada,” Yang said. “There is only one reason it didn’t. It was because of the defendant.”
By not immediately opening the bathroom door after setting off the smoke alarm, and hesitating when handing over his cigarettes and telling where he put the cigarette butt, Naghani interfered with the flight attendant’s search for the possible fire, Yang said.
Flight attendants yesterday testified that a fire at 40,000 feet could destroy a plane in 90 seconds.
“He didn’t care about the rules,” Yang said. “He intended to do what he wanted to do. He had a cigarette and knew he couldn’t smoke.”
After Naghani finally forfeited the pack of cigarettes and said the butt was flushed down the toilet, he got mad when told that he might be arrested, Yang said. “The defendant felt that he was being mistreated, so he went crazy,” Yang said.
“When the defendant went crazy, he threatened to kill all Americans, thereby intimidating the flight attendants and preventing them from performing their duties,” Yang said.
The flight attendants testified that they couldn’t check on the other passengers nor get their drink carts out because of Naghani’s uncooperativeness after leaving the bathroom.
Flier had told the jury in his closing statement to avoid the prosecution’s buzz words like “fear” and “security” and to instead focus on the overreaction of the flight crew.
Despite the fact that the FBI interviewed most of the approximately 135 passengers on the flight, not one passenger witness was brought forth by the government to say they were in fear, Flier said.
Flier reminded the jury not to forget the two independent passengers on the flight who testified that they did not hear Naghani issue any threats and that they weren’t fearful on the flight, in which they sat about ten feet from the incident.
“There were about 135 passengers on that plane, and I had to dig up my own two passengers and bring them here as witnesses,” Flier said. “The FBI has the money to bring whomever they want.”
The only witnesses the government called that were on the plane were two flight attendants who were biased against the defendant because of race, Flier said.
“If me or my son were caught smoking on that plane, the flight crew wouldn’t have overreacted like they did,” Flier, who is Caucasian, said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company