sfo_aerial.jpgA Yemeni man accused of trying to storm the cockpit of a San Francisco-bound flight on Sunday was ordered by a federal magistrate today to be held in custody without bail.

U.S. Magistrate James Larson, at a hearing in San Francisco, said facts alleged by federal prosecutors indicated that Rageh al-Murisi, 28, is both a flight risk and a danger to the community.

“There is no doubt that the facts raised by the government raise very serious concerns,” Larson said.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Elizabeth Falk said al-Murisi, a former math teacher in Yemen, appears to be suffering from mental health problems. She asked to have him released to the care of relatives in Vallejo while he gets treatment.

“We just want to get him the best treatment we can as fast as we can,” she told Larson.

But Larson, referring to al-Murisi’s conduct on the American Airlines flight, said, “Don’t you agree it’s dangerous enough even if it’s not related to any group?”

Larson said Falk could seek to renew her request for bail after al-Murisi receives a mental health evaluation.

In the meantime, the no-bail order remains in effect while al-Murisi awaits a not-yet-scheduled trial on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew. The charge carries a sentence of up to 20 year in prison upon conviction.

Larson said a confidential report prepared by court pretrial services staff showed that al-Murisi had been experiencing hallucinations–“hearing voices, seeing things that were not there”–in recent weeks.

“These hallucinations increased in intensity in the last one to two months,” Larson said.

He told al-Murisi, “Any further consideration of release will have to wait until we have a mental evaluation and further review of your background.”

Larson ordered al-Murisi to return to court on May 23 for either a preliminary hearing or arraignment on an indictment, if a grand jury indictment is filed by that date.

Al-Murisi is accused of moving to the front of a plane bound from Chicago to San Francisco as it neared San Francisco International Airport Sunday evening, and trying to open the locked cockpit door and then ramming it with his shoulder.

He was subdued by flight attendants and two passengers who were retired law enforcement officers and was arrested when the plane landed.

Prosecutor Elise Becker, seeking the no-bail order, argued, “It’s clear his violent conduct put 162 people (on the plane) in jeopardy.

“My goal right now is to make sure society is protected from him,” Becker said.

Becker told Larson that Al-Murisi boarded the flight at its origin in New York and bought his one-way ticket, paying in cash, about an hour before the flight departed.

She said he entered the United States in January 2010, lived with relatives in Vallejo for a few months while looking for work and then moved to New York, where he worked as a taxi driver and a clerk at several convenience stores.

Becker said al-Murisi said “Allahu Abkar,” or “God is great,” as he moved through the plane and that he continued to struggle after being subdued and then after being arrested when the aircraft landed.

She said he told officers who interviewed him at a hospital where he was treated for abrasions that he wanted to die and would kill himself “my own way.” When asked why, he said, “It’s natural,” Becker said.

Becker said that two post-dated checks totaling $13,000 that al-Murisi was carrying were repayments of a loan he had made to the owners of a convenience store for repairs.
Nine relatives, including cousins and an uncle, attended the hearing.

Outside of court, al-Murisi’s uncle, Jamal Almoraissi of Vallejo, said, “They have nothing on him. Look at the evidence,” but declined to make any further comments.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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