Passenger claims to have bomb, killed by air marshals at Miami International Airport

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Wednesday, December 7, 2005

An American Airlines Boeing 757

A United States federal air marshal shot dead on Wednesday an American Airlines passenger named Rigoberto Alpizar on American Airlines Flight 924, a Boeing 757, at Miami International Airport, in Miami, Florida, USA.

The 44-year-old passenger ran out of the door of the airplane after he reboarded the plane, following a customs check in Miami. He was intercepted by the marshals before reaching the jetway and told to get on the ground. According to Air Marshal Service spokesman Dave Adams, the passenger did so, but then reached for a bag, at which point a marshal fired two or three shots and killed the passenger. The passengers recall that they heard up to six shots.

The marshals say Alpizar claimed that he was carrying a bomb before being killed. No other witness has publicly concurred with that account, although one passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off, I've got to get off." No bomb was found when authorities searched the airplane.

The shots were fired in the boarding bridge — the corridor that connects the aircraft to the terminal. Reports also indicate SWAT teams surrounded the plane. According to CNN, a federal official indicated that this is the first time an air marshal has fired a weapon near an airplane.

Alpizar was a Costa Rican native who became a U.S. citizen and lived in Maitland, an Orlando suburb. The 44-year-old passenger was returning from Quito, Ecuador to Orlando, Florida. The plane was en-route to Orlando from Medellin, Colombia.

MSNBC reports that another passenger, Mary Gardner, told a local TV station, WTVJ-TV, that the man started "running crazily through the aisle", as a woman travelling with him ran after yelling that her husband suffered from bipolar disorder and had not taken his medication.

Federal Air Marshals are deployed on flights to deal with security threats on board U.S. air carriers. Following the revamping of domestic security after the World Trade Center attacks, the service was directed to increase its deployment from about fifty to several thousand marshals. In response, the marshal training program was modified and abbreviated, from the original fourteen weeks to five weeks for candidates without prior law enforcement experience and one week for trainees with such experience.

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