A longtime airline mechanic with some possible links to Muslim extremists pleaded guilty Wednesday to sabotaging a jetliner with 150 people aboard, causing the pilot to abort the flight just before takeoff at Miami International Airport.
Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani entered the plea in Miami federal court. He previously admitted to investigators that he committed the sabotage, insisting it was an attempt to gain overtime to fix the American Airlines jet — which he did.
“I do admit the guilt,” Alani, shackled and wearing tan jail clothing, said through an Arabic interpreter.
Alani, 60, is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Iraq who had been an airline mechanic for 30 years. Prosecutors say he has a brother in Iraq who may be involved with the Islamic State extremist group and that he had made statements wishing Allah would use “divine powers” to harm non-Muslims.
Investigators said Alani also had Islamic State videos on his phone depicting mass murders and that he traveled to Iraq in March but did not disclose that to the FBI after his arrest.
Despite that evidence, Alani was never charged with any terrorism-related crime. He pleaded guilty to attempted destruction of an aircraft, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Alani will likely get less prison time when he is sentenced March 4.
Court documents show the sabotage involved gluing Styrofoam inside the nose of the Boeing 737 so that it disabled a component pilots use to monitor things such as airspeed, altitude and the pitch of the plane. Authorities say if the flight had taken off as planned July 17 for Nassau, Bahamas, the sabotage could have caused a crash.
Many of Alani’s actions that day were captured on surveillance video and he was identified by fellow workers.
“(Alani’s) conduct is not representative of the world-class work performed every day by our 15,000 Technical Operations safety professionals,” American Airlines said in a statement. “Safety is the foundation of everything we do, and we know our maintenance team takes that responsibility seriously every day.”
Alani’s attorney, Jonathan Meltz, said he had led a “law-abiding life” before this incident and that he never intended to harm the aircraft or the people aboard. Meltz said his sole motivation was “just trying to provide for his family like most of us try to do.”
As for prosecutors’ previous statements linking Alani to terrorism, Meltz noted none of that came up Wednesday.
“This case is only about what you heard,” Meltz said.