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Empire State Building reopens deck with tighter security

February 25, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Empire State Building reopened its observation deck with airport-style security today for lines of tourists, just two days after a gunman killed a Danish tourist and himself.

A police source said a ``rambling, angry″ note found on the body of the shooter, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, accused the United States of using Israel as ``an instrument″ against Palestinians.

The letter, found in a pocket of the Palestinian teacher, was written in English and Arabic, the source said Monday. It is the first sign of any political motive to Sunday’s bloodbath on the 86th-floor observation deck.

Police said they believe Abu Kamal acted alone, however, and his family claimed the shooting had nothing to do with politics.

Six sightseers also were wounded before Abu Kamal, 69, shot himself in the head.

Abu Kamal’s letter also expressed animosity toward France and England and indicated that he planned to vent his anger at the Empire State Building, the police source added.

Today, scores of tourists lined up to pass through newly installed metal detectors.

``There was a lot of hesitation,″ said John Wheeler, who identified himself as an Arizona resident acting as chaperone for a group of European students. However, he added, ``These isolated incidents happen all over the world but once it’s over with it should be pretty safe.″

Some members of his group were more intrigued by the shooting than the view.

``This is cool,″ said Violeta Barca, 17, of Barcelona, Spain. ``I’m glad I was here today because now I can tell everyone I was here after the shooting.″

In addition to the metal detectors, an airport-style baggage scanner was installed Monday at the art deco landmark.

The shooting raised questions not only about security but also about how Abu Kamal was able to buy the weapon at a Florida gun shop. Police said he received the weapon on Feb. 4, after a three-day waiting period that was extended by a weekend.

New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir called Abu Kamal ``one deranged individual working on his own″ and said there was ``zero″ evidence so far that he was linked to any terrorist group.

In Abu Kamal’s hometown of Gaza City, relatives said he had been distraught over losing more than $300,000 and had no ties to Palestinian radical groups. It was not immediately clear how he lost the money.

Abu Kamal called home on Sunday and said he had financial problems and could not send tuition money to one of his sons, who is studying civil engineering in Russia, a son-in-law said.

The letter found on Abu Kamal’s body discusses personal issues, but does not specifically mention the loss of his life savings. It contains ``rambling, angry stuff″ and accuses the United States of using Israel as ``an instrument″ against his people, the police source said.

Some witnesses said he mumbled something about Egypt before opening fire.

Abu Kamal had visited the building’s observation deck on Saturday, newspapers reported today.

``He may have gone up there without his gun to see what the security was, whether there were metal detectors there,″ a federal law enforcement official told The New York Times. ``Or he may have gone up there with his gun and he simply chickened out.″

Tape from security cameras showed that Abu Kamal concealed the weapon under a long coat when he entered the building Sunday.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other officials said tougher gun control laws are the key to preventing a repeat of the tragedy.

That Abu Kamal _ who had been in the country only two months _ was able to buy a Beretta semiautomatic handgun from a Florida gun shop ``is totally insane,″ Giuliani told a City Hall news conference.

Abu Kamal broke federal laws by buying a gun without living in a state continuously for 90 days, and violated New York laws by carrying it without a permit.

Florida officials, however, defended their state’s efforts to control gun sales.

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles said his state’s gun laws are working, saying state background checks have prevented more than 40,000 felons from buying guns.

Kamal may have lied on either his application for a Florida identification card or on the application for the gun license, said Wayne Holmes, an assistant state attorney in Melbourne Fla.

``I have not seen anything that indicates any violation of the law on the part of the gun shop owner,″ Holmes said.

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