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Israeli Consul-General Briefs Reporters

Aired July 4, 2002 - 20:34   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, I'm Aaron Brown. We interrupt CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT because the Israeli consul in Los Angeles, Yuval Rotem, is about to meet with reporters. As you know, there was a shooting incident at the El Al terminal, the Israeli national airlines. This is Mr. Rotem.

YUVAL ROTEM, ISRAELI CONSUL GENERAL: I'm returning from the airport in Los Angeles, LAX. And I came over here to share with you the information we have from our point. Today, at approximately 11:30 a.m., an unarmed man -- armed with a gun and knife entered El Al Airlines' ticket counter at LAX. He began to direct gun fire at some 80 to 90 passengers waiting in the line.

He shot and killed two unarmed civilians -- a young woman in her early 20s, as well as a man in his mid-40s. As far as we know, four more other individuals in the terminal were injured.

The security agents in the terminal responded quickly and immediately to that fact, were able to intercept the attacker and shot him. The number of fatalities and injuries could have been much worse, but thanks to the quick response and courage on the security agents, a much greater catastrophe was prevented. Though we received no specific warnings of an attack at LAX, El Al Israeli Airlines and the terminals and counters of El Al are always on a very high state of alert.

I have received a phone call from the governor of California, Gray Davis, who offered his condolences and any sort of support. I have been in LAX and I've met with the mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Jimmy Hahn, who pledged his full support.

QUESTION: Sir, earlier today we spoke with your deputy council, Zvee Yopny (ph), who said, quote, "we assume it was a terror attack." What is your view?

ROTEM: Being over there and get information from our people over there, I have to admit that it seems like terrorism. It looks like terrorism. The way it was conducted is very much similar to previous attacks throughout the years over a lot of counters and counters and throughout European countries. And therefore, unfortunately, given this history, we presume that it may and would appear to be a terrorist attack. QUESTION: Sir, you toured the terminal area. And we've heard descriptions from law enforcement sources that the man appears to be Arab in appearance. Do you have -- were you able to see the man and can you verify that or speak to his identity?

ROTEM: When the people saw and were engaged the attacker, he looks Mediterranean.

QUESTION: Sir, I hear what you are saying. I just spoke to the Governor Davis at the news conference. I was present at a news conference at LAX with various law enforcement officials. None of them give us the same set of facts or perception that you just shared with us. So how do you reconcile these two what appear to be conflicting views of what happened?

ROTEM: I don't have any conflict with the governor or with the mayor. I just provide you information that we are able to get from our people on the site. I didn't contradict any information so far coming from any law enforcement agency. But given the experience of Israel and the history of being attacked so often by terrorism, the way it was conducted appears to some of us and many of us as if it was one more terrorist attack against Israel.

QUESTION: What is it about the way it was conducted that suggests it was terrorism?

ROTEM: As far as we know, there are many counters in this terminal, but the attacker has picked El Al as his prime target.

QUESTION: We're also getting a secondhand report. I don't know if you can comment on this, sir, that perhaps the shooter, the assailant, might have been a disgruntled El Al employee. Do you have any information along those lines at all?

ROTEM: I checked this information when I was in the airport, but I didn't have anything to suggest that those theories are any -- are valid or any substantiate.

QUESTION: We understand that Haim Saphir, the chief of security for El Al there was the one who shot the suspect. Can you give us any information on his condition or exactly what his actions were?

ROTEM: Well, I think all these matters are under investigation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at this moment. Our people were able to intercept and shot the attacker. Some of us -- some of those people were injured. They were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the emergency room at Cedar Sinai and they were released with no major, no serious injury to them.

QUESTION: When you say that the quick actions may have prevented this from being a worse catastrophe, is that what you're talking about, his actions?

ROTEM: All these security elements are under investigation, as far as you know, with the FBI and I don't want to comment about that. But we have to commend the Israeli agency to be able to have a very quick response, and to prevent any further catastrophe that could take place over there.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) make it sound like there was one person who might have shot the assailant. Was it one person -- one security agent that shot him or more than one? Did you understand me?

ROTEM: Well, you asked me very specific about security matters, which is basically -- I'm not in a position at this moment to make any comment about it. But he was shot by people on -- in our -- in our -- people who were on our side in the airport, and I prefer not to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Can you speak at all about what happened at the ticket counter? What actually -- how did the events unfold? What's your understanding of that?

ROTEM: My understanding is that the attacker stepped in with a knife and a pistol, start shooting at a passenger in the El Al counter.

QUESTION: And was there some sort of misunderstanding or?

ROTEM: There was no misunderstanding. I mean, we are, unfortunately, as I told you before, we are unfortunately are very trained to engage all kinds of terrorist attacks. One of them -- one potential attack is against Israeli and El Al counters in some airports, and I think they have done a superb job in being able to intercept the shooter.

QUESTION: When this sort of attack happens, you mentioned that other airports in Europe at El Al...

ROTEM: My recollection, the last one, the serious one took place in 1985 in Rome, when a very similar kind of attack by some terrorists took place, and resulted in 17 Israelis killed in that attack. It was in 1985 -- 1995, yeah.


ROTEM: Yeah.

QUESTION: To follow up on what Manny (ph) was saying, though, the law enforcement officials, state government officials, federal officials are all suggesting that this is an isolated incident, not part of a broader terrorist attack or anything like that.

ROTEM: It may turn to be a truth. I didn't say that there's any broader conspiracy here or a broader program or an idea that it's an element in the other sequence of other terrorist attacks to come or to take place. I've just tried to share with you the information we have. Viewing the pattern of the attack and provide you our perception that it may turn to be one more attack against Israelis.

QUESTION: Did you speak to any of the other victims? We're told that the woman in her 20s was one of the people who was killed, and a 46-year-old male. Do you have any information on those people? Or the wounded? ROTEM: We have the information. One of my colleagues visited the site at the hospital and tried to help as much as we can, although some of them are not Israeli citizens, they are American citizens. So we shared information with the American authorities who would like to get information about these two families.

QUESTION: I know you don't want to provide any names before families have been notified, but can you give us any information about the people without...

ROTEM: The families are already aware about the unfortunate events.

QUESTION: Can you identify the victims?

ROTEM: I don't know if the entire family on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have basically have any information about it, so I'd prefer not to do it over the TV, please.

QUESTION: Is there an official reaction from the Israeli government to what's happened?

ROTEM: There were a few comments done by the Israeli minister of transportation, on some even the American media outlets, but as I told you, I mean, we're waiting to get information, official information from either security -- law enforcement agencies of the United States, and I'm we are going to get it as soon as they are able to establish some kind of indication to the motivation into the individual who was behind this kind of attack.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with security as it exists at the Bradley international terminal? Anyone in the public can come to these counter areas. Do you believe that that should be changed?

ROTEM: I think there's no end for security measures to be installed in order to prevent any kind of event of this nature. But, you know, the first thing that was done in the last few months was that it was supposed to prevent primarily hijacking planes to take place in the airports. And I think that was addressed in -- from our point of view in an appropriate way. But again, it's up to the Americans to decide the level and the degree of security arrangements to be given and to be done in your own airports.

QUESTION: Can you speak to any increased level of security as a result of this particular incident? I know you're not a spokesperson for El Al, but anything that you know of that's going on as a result...

ROTEM: I think -- I think it's premature. I mean, our system, as far as you know, Israel Airline is one of the most secure airlines, and I think that you've seen in the aftermath of unfortunately September 11, you have seen that we have shared our experience with ways and means to prevent a hijacking. However, it's, again, it's -- we are going to do our own investigation and we are going to decide if there's a need to change our code of conduct when it comes to security. QUESTION: Can you give us any insight into these meetings that your officials have had with some of the victims? Anyone in particular?

ROTEM: It was a very, very sad moment, because it's the combination of being Israeli and being attacked and being American on the Fourth of July. For many of us, it was a reminder of our bonds, that an attack on Israel and the United States on Fourth of July, it was a very unfortunate event, and I think that it's no coincidence that it was done in that way in that place.

QUESTION: It sounds as though you are convinced, sir, that this is a terror attack. That this was not, as many government officials have said, an isolated incident.

ROTEM: Again, isolated incident, it's isolated from what? For broad -- for a broader program or a broader idea of attacking more facilities or something like that? I strongly believe that from the way I was given the briefing by our people over there that it seems like and looks like a terrorist attack.

QUESTION: But was there anything that this suspect said or anything that...

ROTEM: It's only based on experience, long experience and long history of being attacked in so many airports throughout the world.

QUESTION: Do you have any additional names or anything like that that you could give us? Or descriptions of the victims, ages...

ROTEM: No, I'd prefer not to go -- I'd prefer not to beyond that. I think it's a very sad story for the families. We need go give them their time to understand what's going on, and I think that we need to -- we need to leave the families to do it on their own without any media help.

QUESTION: The security that were involved -- were they private security for El Al, or were they with the Israeli Defense Forces?

ROTEM: No, there's no private security guys in the airport. All our security are officially over there, complying with the authorities' regulations. And there's no indication that any kind of this stuff has visibly took place.

BROWN: Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles talking to reporters about the incident this morning, Los Angeles time, 11:30 this morning, L.A. time at Los Angeles International Airport. Three people dead in what Mr. Rotem says appears to him at least to be a terrorist incident. And we can debate back and forth what that precisely means.

A couple of facts that he laid out, briefly. He said the man was armed with a gun and a knife. There were 80 to 90 passengers waiting in line, and that El Al had no specific warning of any impending attack. It is not clear what if anything was said by the shooter, or the alleged shooter, if you will, either to the victims or to El Al employees before he opened fire.

But again, three people, including the shooter, are dead tonight in Los Angeles.

We continue to work the story to try and tie an awful lot of loose ends together. We expect to have much more for you in the way of detail on "NEWSNIGHT," 10:00 Eastern time. We'll see you then.




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