SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday denied bail and ordered a mental evaluation for a Yemeni man accused of trying to break into the cockpit of an American Airlines flight.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Larson ordered Rageh Al-Musiri to be evaluated by a mental health professional after a defense attorney said that the 28-year-old defendant’s actions may have been prompted by mental illness and not criminal intent.
“Is this just a sad mental health case, or is this the case of a man who may have developed a mental condition and needs help or is this some larger issue,” defense attorney Elizabeth Falk said during a bail hearing for Al-Musiri.
Al-Musiri is charged with interfering with a flight crew for an incident on Sunday aboard American Airlines flight 1561, which was bound for San Francisco from Chicago with 162 people on board.
About 20 minutes before the plane landed, the Yemeni national allegedly tried to open the cockpit door, ramming his shoulder into it until a flight attendant and passengers subdued him, according to a criminal complaint.
At a hearing earlier this week, a prosecutor said Al-Musiri yelled “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest” in Arabic, during the incident.
But Falk said Al-Musiri’s family believes he is suffering from some sort of mental breakdown.
“This behavior completely surprised them,” she said. “They do not believe he is involved in any kind of terrorist activity. Their concern is that he is mentally unstable.”
In ordering Al-Musiri to undergo a mental health evaluation, Larson noted that the defendant had suffered from auditory and visual hallucinations in the past two months.
The judge ordered Al-Musiri held without bail after finding him a potential danger to the community and flight risk.
“There is no doubt that the facts presented by the government raise very serious concerns,” Larson said.
According to prosecutors, Al-Musiri came to the United States in January 2010 on an immigrant visa and lived in California for a few months before moving to New York, where he worked as a convenience store clerk and taxi driver.
A few days before the incident, he quit his job at a New York store after an argument with the owner, prosecutors say.
Al-Musiri faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted of interfering with a flight crew. Larson set the next hearing in the case for May 23.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton