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Investigators Still  Looking for a Motive in LA Shooting - 2002-07-05

Authorities say a picture is emerging of the man who killed two people and injured three others at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday. Hesham Mohamed Hadayet opened fire at a ticket counter of Israel's national airline, El Al, before he was shot and killed by a security guard. Authorities are still unsure whether the shooting was a hate crime, an act of terrorism or a random act of violence.

Investigators say the 41-year-old limousine driver parked his Mercedes in the public parking garage across from Tom Bradley international terminal. He entered the building and approached the El Al ticket counter. Without speaking, he opened fire with a powerful 45-caliber handgun. He fatally shot 25-year-old Victoria Hen, an El Al employee who was standing behind the counter, and a bystander, 46-year-old Jacob Aminov.

Authorities say the suspect turned and continued firing as an El Al security guard and a bystander tried to subdue him. The assailant was forced to the ground, and another security guard fatally shot him. Both security guards suffered stab wounds. A woman bystander suffered a minor gunshot injury.

The man continued to struggle before succumbing to his wound. In all, authorities believe he may have fired as many as ten shots from his handgun. He had a backup weapon and an extra magazine of ammunition. The events took place in as little as 30 seconds.

That was the scene as it emerged from the accounts of hundreds of bystanders interviewed by investigators. What is not clear is the man's motive. FBI agent Richard Garcia, who heads the investigation, said, "We do not have any indication from the witnesses we have interviewed yesterday information whether or not there was a struggle, any type of statement that was yelled by this individual prior to his shooting, which makes it very difficult to determine the exact motive."

Generally, says agent Garcia, terrorist acts involve a statement of intention. Mr. Garcia adds that contrary to some published reports, the suspect was not on any terrorist watchlist. He also has no known connection to terrorist organizations. But FBI officials say he clearly entered the building intending to kill.

Israeli officials insist their airline was targeted in a terrorist attack. Mr. Garcia says he understands the viewpoint, but so far has found no evidence of involvement by a terrorist organization. "From my understanding," he explained, "the Israeli government, when a violent act takes place on an entity of Israel or an individual of Israel, they assume terrorism first until proven otherwise. We cannot make presumptions like that."

The official says investigators have not ruled out possible terrorist connections, and are seeking more information from Mr. Hadayet's friends and associates.

They are also requesting help from Egyptian officials in locating the man's family. His wife and children returned to Egypt in the week before the shootings.