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Passengers, Flight Crew Subdue Unruly Man on SFO-Bound Plane

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CBS 5 / KCBS / AP) -- A passenger aboard a Chicago-to-San Francisco flight was wrestled to the floor by flight attendants and fellow passengers late Sunday night after the man began yelling and banging on the cockpit door as the flight approached SFO, according to authorities.

28-year-old Rageh Almurisi of Vallejo was seated in the coach section of American Airlines Flight 1561 when he allegedly started to walk briskly toward the front of the plane within 30 minutes of its scheduled landing at SFO, San Francisco police Sgt. Michael Rodriguez said.

A flight attendant said it seemed, initially, that he was going to the forward bathroom. However, once Almurisi walked past the first class section and the bathroom, the flight attendant asked him to sit back down.

Almurisi apparently ignored the order and started to yell unintelligibly and pound on the cockpit door.

KCBS' Doug Sovern Reports:

Fellow passenger Andrew Wai of San Francisco told CBS 5 that Almurisi seemed fidgety throughout the flight.

"He had been yelling 'Allah Akbar' running down the aisle and then either him of passengers started yelling go, go, go," Wai said.

Allah Akbar means "God is Great" in Arabic.

Martelle said a flight attendant asked for assistance with the passenger and a number of people responded, including an off-duty American Airlines pilot.

Federal Complaint Against Passenger (.pdf)

"After he was subdued, they found a seat nearby where they could monitor him," Martelle said.

Rodriguez said Almurisi was wrestled to the ground by crew members and two passengers — a retired Secret Service agent and a retired San Mateo police officer.

He was put in plastic handcuffs and placed in a nearby seat until the Boeing 737 landed at SFO at 9:12 p.m.

Wai said he feared the worst, an al Qaeda plot to avenge Osama bin Laden's death.

"It was a big moment of relief, especially when we landed on the tarmac and knew we were going to be on the ground and not flying into a building in San Francisco," said Wai.

San Francisco police were notified about the disturbance before the plane landed, and were waiting to take Almurisi into custody as soon as the plane touched down.

Because Almurisi struggled when he was wrestled to the floor, he had apparent abrasions on his body, Rodriguez acknowledged. No other people aboard the flight suffered any injuries.

Police transported the man to San Mateo County General Hospital for treatment before he was booked at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City about 1:30 a.m., where he was charged with interfering with a flight crew – a federal offense.

At the time of his arrest, Almurisi was in possession of a Yemeni passport as well as a California identification card, Rodriguez said.

Police said Almurisi has no clear or known ties to terrorism.

Rodriguez said authorities have not yet established a motive for why Almurisi got up from his seat and went toward the cockpit door.

A cousin of the suspect described him as an educated, easygoing person who had arrived in the Bay Area a year-and-a-half ago from Yemen in search of better opportunities.

He was unable to find work in Vallejo, a city hit hard by the real estate bust, and recently moved to New York where his brother lived in search of better luck, said Rageh Almoraissi, 29, of Vallejo.

Almurisi had not told his extended family in California that he was returning to the area, Almoraissi said.

"He's very laid back, he's always smiling, he's always laughing. He's not an angry person," Almoraissi said. "Everybody's worried about him. It's not typical of him."

Almoraissi said he could not imagine what may have caused his cousin to act as authorities allege he did on the plane, but said he was certain Almurisi was not a terrorist. He said his cousin did not show an interest in politics and was not intensely religious.

"He might have seriously mistaken the cockpit for the bathroom," Almoraissi said. "He's only been on three planes in his whole life." Almurisi was taking classes in California to learn English but was not happy with his progress, his cousin said.

The plane originated at LaGuardia Airport in New York and was headed to SFO by way of Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

The airport continued to operate normally and there were no delays related to the incident.

"This seems to be an isolated incident and San Francisco police are doing everything to investigate the case," Rodriguez emphasized.

Almurisi is due to make an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate James Larson in San Francisco at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on the charge filed by federal prosecutors.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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