Jim Leusner and Willoughby Mariano | Sentinel Staff Writers
April 2, 2008
A Jamaican planning to board a flight at Orlando International Airport was detained and questioned by FBI agents Tuesday after they found components for pipe bombs and explosive and flammable liquids in his checked luggage.
The suspect was identified late Tuesday as Kevin Brown, 32, a Jamaican national who was scheduled to fly on Air Jamaica Flight 80 to Montego Bay at 2:55 p.m. Transportation Security Administration officers spotted him acting suspiciously about noon, TSA and law-enforcement officials said. Several officials said the man was "acting strange" and questioned his mental stability.
Brown was charged with attempting to carry an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft and booked into theSeminole County Jail late Tuesday. He will appear before a federal judge in Orlando today.
Wearing blue jeans and a white shirt, Brown was searched by a bomb technician on a curb outside the airport terminal. His camouflage-style backpack also was seized and searched by an Orlando Fire Department bomb squad.
TSA searched his luggage and found "suspicious items," according to TSA officials. Among the items seized were two galvanized pipes, end caps, two small containers of BB pellets, batteries, two containers of liquids, a laptop computer and bomb-making literature, according to an FBI statement released Tuesday night.
The search took place during the busy spring-break vacation season, with many visitors departing town after attending WrestleMania 24 on Sunday. Orlando police sealed off a 300-foot perimeter near the check-in counters at Terminal A for more than two hours while bomb-squad technicians searched the suspect and his backpack at curbside. Several airlines, including Air Canada, WestJet, Air Jamaica and Virgin Atlantic, had flights delayed.
Joel Salazar, 25, who was en route to Lima, Peru, was among the hundreds of confused travelers standing in long, snaking lines and waiting for direction from airport personnel.
"Nobody told us what was going on," Salazar said.
Lee Kair, the top TSA official in Orlando, would not give details about the seized materials in the luggage, the suspect or whether he was traveling with anyone.
"I can say there was no immediate threat to passengers in the terminal," Kair said.
Authorities also said they did not think the materials posed a direct threat to passengers on the plane.
Brown was detected by a TSA "behavioral specialist" trained since 2006 in spotting involuntary actions by people being deceptive, Kair said.
After the passenger checked in his bag, officials diverted it from the normal screening process, looked inside and found the prohibited items. Officers later confronted him.
"It's really a testament to the system working," Kair said. He did not say how far the suspect got into the airport before being taken into custody.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R- Winter Park, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he was briefed by TSA on Tuesday but could not discuss details for security reasons.
"If what TSA has described to me is true, it's probably the most serious incident we've had at OIA," said Mica, former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. "At least one and possibly two [security] backup systems we put in place worked."
FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said agents detained the man and questioned him about the items found in his luggage.
Airport officials temporarily routed passengers away from the Virgin Atlantic and Air Jamaica check-in areas at Terminal A. Flight operations and check-in continued elsewhere, according to the TSA.
Air Jamaica Chairwoman Shirley Williams said the man, who was born in Jamaica and carried a passport from that country, lives in the United States and used his green card to check in at the airport. She said Flight 80 took off at 5:31 p.m. with 96 passengers aboard.
OIA spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said 11 of the daily 1,000 commercial, private and cargo flights were affected. The incident occurred about noon; it was 5:30 p.m. before operations returned to normal.
Passengers at the airport described confusion in Terminal A, where they were forced to abandon luggage at ticket counters and faced long lines when they were allowed to return.
Janet Lawe was almost to the ticket counter about noon when airport officials announced that the area was being evacuated.
"We were also told there was a guy with an explosive," said Lawe, 40, who was visiting from Kingston, Jamaica, with her husband and two children. The family was booked on the same flight as Brown.
Tuesday's incident follows a security breach at OIA in March 2007, when federal agents arrested two airline employees who used their security privileges to smuggle 13 handguns, a rifle and 8 pounds of marijuana aboard a Delta flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The incident prompted the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority to spend $5 million on security upgrades.
Jason Garcia, Beth Kassab, Sarah Lundy and Tamara Lytle of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Jim Leusner can be reached at 407-420-5411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Willoughby Mariano can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5171.