LAX Flight 241: Orthodox Jewish Prayer Triggers TSA 'Security Threat,' Lockdown Aboard Plane From Mexico City

Mini Torrah pouches: terrorist threat?
Mini Torrah pouches: terrorist threat?

It's good to see a religious group besides Muslims profiled for suspicious behavior by a paranoid American airline -- but still, this is a little silly.

The LA Daily News reported yesterday that a traditional prayer conducted by three orthodox Jews on a red-eye from Mexico City was enough for flight attendants and pilots to declare a "security threat," lock down the cockpit and call in FBI agents to meet the plane as it taxied into Gate 210 at LAX.

Things started to get really crazy when, mid-flight, the three suspects broke out their tefillin...

... or, little black boxes filled with Torah scrolls, then strapped to their bodies with black leather straps. Kind of strange-looking, yes, but terror-inducing?

Apparently. From the Daily News:

Initial reports said the passengers were rowdy and that a fight had broken out on board.

Police and a full assignment of fire trucks met Alaska Airlines flight 241 as it arrived at LAX at 8:30 a.m. Three men were escorted off the plane by police, questioned by the FBI and then released to make connecting flights to other countries, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. ...

The Alaska Airlines spokeswoman explained that "shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant saw what she believe was unusual behavior from three passengers on board. The three passengers were praying aloud in Hebrew and were wearing what appeared to be leather straps on their foreheads and arms."

The plane was met with a fleet of L.A. firefighters, FBI agents, TSA gropers and Customs officials as it rolled into LAX, all of whom quickly realized the men were harmless.

"We're obligated, of course, to respond when the (air) flight calls us out to clear up concerns," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told the Daily News. "Because they were not charged with anything, we don't release any kind of personal information. They were Mexican nationals, traveling openly overseas, and their travel continued overseas."

A similar scare took place last year in New York, when 14-year-old Caleb Liebowitz was questioned at gunpoint for donning the religious contraption. It seems that this time around, at least, investigators were a little more gentle toward their suspected rebels.

Want to rile up a planeful of skittish athiests? Here's how the tefillin work:

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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