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‘Kind old man’ illegally bought gun in Florida before Empire rampage

February 25, 1997

MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) _ The Palestinian man who went on a shooting rampage at the Empire State building illegally bought a gun in Florida after living for three weeks at a motel where the staff called him ``Papa.″

Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, 69, an English teacher from the Gaza Strip, obtained an official Florida identification card and then applied for the .380-caliber Beretta on Jan. 30. He picked up the handgun on Feb. 4 from Oaks Trading Post Inc., a pawn shop about two miles from the motel, federal officials said.

Sunday, he used it to kill one tourist, wound six others and kill himself.

He had broken federal laws by buying a gun without living in a state continuously for 90 days, and violated New York state and city laws by carrying it without a permit.

``It’s far from true to say that Florida is cavalier in the way that we treat the sale of guns,″ Gov. Lawton Chiles said, noting the state’s three-day waiting period and background check for criminal and psychiatric records.

Abu Kamal complied with the check, but it turned up nothing because of his brief time in the United States. And gun sellers generally accept a driver’s license as proof of residency, presuming state requirements for a license meet residency requirements.

Abu Kamal obtained an official Florida photo identification card Jan. 30 under the name Ali H.A. Abukamal in Melbourne, said Janet Dennis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The Oaks Trading store was closed Monday as ATF agents interviewed the owner about the sale. The same shop legally sold the guns used by mass killer William Cruse in a shooting at two adjacent Palm Bay shopping centers that left six people dead in 1987.

The shootings still shocked the owner of the River Oaks Motel, Gary Gregory. ``He was not that type, if there ever was that type,″ he said. ``He looked like a kind old man with just some weird habits.″

Abu Kamal paid $150 a week _ paying with $100 bills _ from Jan. 11 to Feb. 1. His refrigerator was stocked with tropical fruit, although a maid said she later found needles and insulin.

He attended prayer services a handful of times last month at a Melbourne mosque during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The man ``appeared extremely ordinary. He thought normally and was even friendly,″ said Nuzassar Shaikh, president of the Islamic Society of Brevard County, which runs the mosque.

Abu Kamal would sometimes stand outside his room in the nude and stay there until Gregory asked him to go inside.

``I told him, `Papa, you can’t do that. That’s not cool,‴ Gregory said Monday.

Abu Kamal offered to pay one of the maids for sex, but she refused and never cleaned his room again, said Patti Wilson, another cleaner at the motel.

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