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Mentally unstable man shot dead by air marshals

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1661928,00.html Mentally unstable man shot dead by air marshals Julian Borger in Washington and Sam Jones Thursday
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2005
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1661928,00.html

      Mentally unstable man shot dead by air marshals

      Julian Borger in Washington and Sam Jones
      Thursday December 8, 2005
      The Guardian

      An investigation was under way last night into the
      fatal shooting of a mentally unstable passenger by
      federal air marshals at Miami airport. Officials said
      the passenger, a 44-year-old American man, Rigoberto
      Alpizar, had claimed he had a bomb in his hand luggage
      and was asked to leave the plane, an American Airlines
      flight to Orlando, while it was still at the gate.

      James Bauer, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal
      Service, said: "He was holding a backpack and uttered
      a threat that he had a bomb." Mr Bauer said Mr Alpizar
      had "attempted to avoid" the marshals and "they fired
      shots with the result that he is deceased".

      Other reports quoted unnamed officials as claiming
      that Mr Alpizar had refused to drop his bag on the
      jetway leading to the terminal and advanced
      "aggressively" towards the marshals while reaching
      into the bag, government officials said.

      Witnesses said they heard at least three shots, and Mr
      Alpizar was declared dead before reaching hospital.
      Police took three bags from the plane and blew them up
      on the airport tarmac, but no explosives were found.

      Mr Bauer said: "There is no reason to believe there is
      any nexus to terrorism" and called the incident an
      "isolated event".

      It is the first time US air marshals have opened fire
      on a passenger since the programme of placing guards
      on commercial airliners was expanded after the
      September 11 attacks.

      Official sources said Mr Alpizar arrived in Miami from
      Ecuador after an argument with his wife on the flight
      to the US. After passing through US customs, he
      boarded the flight to Orlando and then began making
      bomb threats.

      An eyewitness told a local television station that the
      man's wife had warned he was mentally ill. "He was
      frantic, his arms flailing in the air," the passenger,
      Mary Gardner, said. Ms Gardner said the man had run
      down the aisle from the back of the plane, followed by
      a woman shouting "My husband! My husband!" She also
      heard the woman say her husband was bipolar and had
      not taken his medication.

      Dave Adams, a spokesman for the marshal service, said
      marshals on board the plane had warned Mr Alpizar
      several times to stop and drop the bag, before
      "discharging their weapons". He said the investigation
      would be carried out with the FBI, the transportation
      security administration and the Miami police.

      Although America has been using air marshals since
      1968, it embarked on a major recruitment drive after
      the events of September 11, when it was revealed that
      only 33 were in service. President George Bush ordered
      a dramatic rise in numbers, prompting 200,000
      applications.

      US air marshals are responsible for detecting,
      deterring and defeating hostile acts that target US
      air carriers, airports, passengers and crews. Recruits
      are put through a seven-week basic law course and
      taught marksmanship, defence tactics and first aid.

      They then learn how to put their skills into practice
      in the field. Because of the nature of the threats
      they face, air marshals are trained to shoot more
      accurately than any other US law enforcement agents
      and use bullets that fragment inside the body to
      minimise damage to plane and passengers.
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