Travelers dismiss fears of renewed violence at airport

Travelers dismiss fears of renewed violence at airport

Nick Green

Travelers dismiss fears of renewed violence at airport

Accompanied by German shepherds, Los Angeles International Airport police officers patrolled the Tom Bradley InternationalTerminal.

Security guards appeared to be searching some vans and trucks entering the parking structure opposite the terminal.

And the El Al ticket counter where the day beforea gunman had killed two people and injured four others sat unmarked and unmanned – – a normal state of affairs in a terminal where some airlines share common counters, according toan airport spokesman, who said the Israeli carrier had no Friday flights scheduled. The two bullet holes, shattered glass and white roses visible earlier in the day had been removed by the afternoon.

But with television camera crews outnumbering uniformed security personnel, most travelers passing through the terminal dismissed fears of renewed violence,calling the shooting a random act rather than calculated terrorism.

“It was just a disgruntled Arab,” said Brad Koppel, 49, of Hermosa Beach of the gunman who was actually Egyptian. Koppel was waiting in a long line at the Lufthansa counter, adjacent to El Al’s booth. “It’s better to die in a random act of violence today than live the next 40 years under a bed.”

Koppel’s son was one of 11 students from Manhattan Beach’s Mira Costa High School heading for a weeklong cruise in Greek waters.

Chaperone and art history teacher John Mellis, 40, of Manhattan Beach, said not one student dropped out of the trip when he called parents Thursday evening. “It seems much calmer than I anticipated – – it’s definitely a good vibe,” he said surveying the crowd. “There is an increased security presence, but it’s understated.”

The terminal, evacuated and shut down for about six hours Thursday,was operating normally Friday, airport spokesman Tom Winfrey said.

About 150,000 travelers were expected to fly in and out aboard 1,706 flights, including 252 inter national flights — a normal volume, although travel has declined 15 percent during the first five months of the year compared with the same period the year before.

“You’ve gotto go when you’ve got to go,” Winfrey said. “It’s a normal day’s operation.”

That summed up the attitude of transplanted Australian Sean Dart, 41, of Seattle, who was passing time trying to spot undercover security personnel as he finished a McDonald’s lunch at a table overlooking the El Al ticket counter before catching a flight to Tokyo.

“I was a little bit concerned yesterday,” said Dart, a vice president for a software company, after calling his Jewish wife via cellphone. “I didn’t tell her I was sitting here in front of the ticket counter. . . . But if you let this stuff stop you you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Egyptian native Said Jacob, 51, of Diamond Bar, who was seeing his 21-year-old son off on his first trip to the Middle East, fretted more about the image his fellow Americans would have of his former countrymen than security issues.

“Unfortunately, those people are bad examples for the Egyptian people,” saidthe Glendora psychiatrist of the gunman and then nodded in his son’s direction. “If it’s time for him to die, it’s time for him to die. It could be in Terminal 4 . . . it could be in a car (accident).”

Onofre “Taffy” Tafoya, 73, a retired miner from Mammoth, Ariz., was awaiting the delayed arrival of his 66-year-old fiancee from China. He was worried more about politicians exploiting the incident than further shootings.

“Matter of fact I, think they went overboard by clearing out the whole damn place,” he said of Thursday’s terminal evacuation. “I think we’re going overboard in this country and I think it’s our politicians who aredoing that to us — scaring us.

“You can’t make this whole world safe for everybody. What you can do is take away their freedoms and that’s what they’re doing.”

As if on cue,Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called Friday for the Transportation Security Administration to expand its scrutiny of airport security beyond passenger and baggage screening points, where most of its attention has been focused to date.

“It is my understanding that neither the airlines northe federal government provide security at or around ticketcounters,” Boxer wrote in a letter to John McGaw, who headsthe TSA. “This is a weak link in our airport security. ” An agency spokesman said officials are reviewing whether security needs to be improved around ticket counters and other terminal areas.

The Associated Press and Copley News Service correspondent Toby Eckert contributed to this story.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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