Lebanese identify body found in Saudi plane
By ZEINA KARAM (AP) – 7 hours ago
BEIRUT — The body found inside the wheel bay of an airliner landing in Saudi Arabia belonged to a 20-year-old Lebanese man who appears to have sneaked onto the runway, a senior Lebanese security official said Monday.
The body was discovered by maintenance workers in Riyadh after the Airbus 320 from the Saudi Nasair company flew in from Beirut.
The incident is still shrouded in mystery and has raised concerns about security measures at the airport. The state-run National News Agency reported that the airport security chief, Maj. Gen. Wafik Shoukair, formally asked the interior minister to remove him from his post.
The security official said the body has been identified as Firas Haidar, 20, from the Beirut suburb of Bourj al-Barajneh near the airport. Authorities were able to identify him based on photographs of the body sent by Saudi authorities.
The state news agency said Saturday that some passengers had reported seeing a man wearing a cap with a backpack running toward the plane before it took off from Beirut. They said he stumbled to the ground, got up and continued toward it just before take off.
The report said the passengers and crew informed the plane’s pilot about the man but he went ahead with the take off.
The senior official could not confirm the witness accounts but did say Haidar appeared to have cut through the barbed wire fence surrounding the runway.
A metal cutter, a cap and two cigarettes without filters were recovered from the tarmac, he said, adding that the man appeared to have used the cigarette filters as ear plugs.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The family’s lawyer denied reports that Haidar was mentally unstable or on drugs.
“I know Firas personally, he is a very stable and decent man,” Mohammed Shoukair told The Associated Press. He said Haidar was a student at a technical university in Beirut and had just sat for exams.
“He wanted to get out, to find work to help his parents and family. This is the main reason for what he did,” he added.
Shoukair said the family was still waiting for results of DNA tests and the investigation to find out what exactly had happened.
A reporter who tried visiting Haidar’s fifth floor family home in his impoverished Shiite neighborhood was turned away and asked to leave Monday by a group of men standing outside the building.
One of the men said the family was “dealing with a difficult situation” and did not want to meet journalists for the time being.
The airport security chief, Shoukair, was at the center of controversy in May 2008 when the then Western-backed Cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora decided to remove him from his post. Backed by Hezbollah and other Syrian-backed groups, the Shiite Muslim Shoukair refused the order and kept the post against the will of the government.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
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