Suspicious of Hoax Claim, Passengers Warily Board Flights
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Wary of the Unabomber’s claim that his threat to blow up an airliner was a publicity prank, passengers took precautions Thursday amid tight security and word of yet another message.
The Washington Post received a letter similar to one received by The New York Times, the FBI said in a statement. But neither authorities nor passengers were letting down their guard.
``Based on the Unabomber’s prior history of violence, and specifically violent acts directed against airline passengers, the FBI is continuing to take the threat as stated in the letter ... very seriously,″ the FBI said in a statement.
So did passenger Carol Mansell, who was boarding a flight to Pittsburgh with her husband. ``We made out our wills,″ she said.
Terminals were busy despite the on-again, off-again threat to bomb a flight out of Los Angeles International Airport, and the crowds in the lines belied the fear.
``Once your suspicions have been raised it’s hard to put yourself back in that peaceful state of mind,″ said John Smith, who prepared to send daughters Sara, 7, and Krissy, 6, to North Carolina. ``We won’t feel good until we know they’ve landed.″
But other passengers were comforted by news of the second letter.
``We saw all the police and TV cameras when we drove in. It’s a relief, thank God,″ said Harry Freer, 71, of Long Beach.
The Unabomber, so named because many of his targets have had connections to universities and airlines, has mailed or planted 16 bombs since 1978, killing three people and injuring 23.
The most recent attack killed a timber industry lobbyist on April 24 in Sacramento. He also has shown a fascination with wood in building the bombs and choosing targets.
His threat to blow up a plane before the end of the July Fourth weekend surfaced Tuesday in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. But on Wednesday, another authenticated letter was sent to The New York Times.
It said: ``Since the public has a short memory, we decided to play one last prank to remind them who we are. But, no, we haven’t tried to plant a bomb on an airline (recently).″
He also expressed remorse for past attacks.
``We don’t think it is necessary for us to do any public soul-searching in this letter. But we will say that we are not insensitive to the pain caused by our bombings.″
The Unabomber, who claims to represent a group called FC but authorities believe to be a loner, said he was glad his 1979 attempt to blow up an American Airlines jet failed. The altitude-triggered bomb exploded in the cargo hold, forcing an emergency landing. Twelve people suffered smoke inhalation.
Postal authorities indefinitely extended a ban on aerial shipping of mail originating in California weighing 12 ounces or more.
The Postal Service said such mail already collected would be returned to senders, and window clerks would not accept any more Express, Priority, first-class, international air or military mail weighing 12 ounces or more.
By Thursday about 400,000 pieces of mail were stopped at post offices and 23 major postal plants statewide.
No chances were taken at Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fifth busiest airport, which was expected to handle about 150,000 passengers _ 75,000 departing _ on some 2,000 flights Thursday.
Workers checked photo IDs as a dog sniffed for bombs at a boarding gate.
A briefcase that raised suspicions after being checked in was taken away by a bomb squad and blown up, only to reveal lighting fixtures and literature, said airport spokeswoman Diane Scully.
Police stood watch in terminals and people stood in long lines at metal detectors as bags were searched. At one set of detectors, more than a hundred people backed up in a tangle down two escalators.
Some frightened passengers looked into flight insurance, others got their flights routed out of other airports and some just took a philosophical approach.
``I feel like, what’s going to be is going to be,″ Georgia Kelly said as she boarded a United Airlines shuttle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. ``I could stay home and get on the freeway. In L.A., that isn’t exactly safe.″
Waiting patiently for his flight, Pete Agbo, 32, described the precautions he had taken to avoid risking devastation of his family.
He and two brothers had planned to fly to Chicago on a family matter, but he said he decided only one would go ``because if anything happens we can afford to lose one person but not three people at the same time.″
Germany-bound Felicia Popa of Anaheim found comfort in the crowd.
``I felt obviously more comfortable when I saw so many other people at LAX,″ he said. ``It’s not only us that are flying.″