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LAX Killer Had Sought Asylum

Immigration: Man who killed two had worked the system until his wife won a visa lottery. One victim is buried in Israel.

July 09, 2002|PATRICK J. McDONNELL, RICH CONNELL and GEOFFREY MOHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Egyptian immigrant who gunned down two people at Los Angeles International Airport in a Fourth of July rampage applied for political asylum shortly after arriving in the U.S. in 1992, according to government sources.

Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, filed his application just weeks before his six-month visitor's visa was due to expire. Although asylum was denied, the application and a subsequent appeal in 1996 allowed Hadayet to obtain temporary residency and work permission. That lasted until August 1997, when his wife won legal residency status for their family in a federal visa lottery.

Documents and interviews show that Hadayet, who was killed by an El Al Israel Airlines security guard during the shootout last week, had sporadic contact over the last two decades with immigration and Social Security authorities, and had made several attempts to obtain legal permission to work here. One of those attempts may have involved fraud, according to a knowledgeable government source.

Hadayet, who had driven limousines and taxis since 1992, had his earliest known contact with the Social Security Administration in August 1981, when he received a Social Security card after applying at the agency's Wilshire Boulevard office.

The card, often issued to students or dependents, carried a restriction prohibiting Hadayet from working.

At the time, he was classified as a noncitizen immigrant.

Such a process would have to have been done in person, according to Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration. "We do ask for identification," Kepke said.

It is unclear where Hadayet lived between 1981 and 1992, when he arrived in Los Angeles from abroad with a six-month visitor's visa.

His next contact with the Social Security Administration did not come until December 1998, when he applied for and received a replacement card at the agency's Newport Beach office. He also corrected the spelling of his first name and obtained full work permission, Kepke said.

At the time of his 1992 asylum application, such applications provided a virtually automatic means to obtain temporary work visas. For example, the assailant who mowed down employees in front of the CIA's Langley, Va., office in 1993, Mir Aimal Kansi, had obtained temporary residency by seeking asylum in 1991; his case would later bring a congressional reform of the regulations.

"That was the problem with the whole system," said Carl Shusterman, a former Immigration and Naturalization Service prosecutor who now works as an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles. "A lot of people [without] good asylum applications saw it as a great way to get a work card."

In denying his application, INS authorities apparently did not believe Hadayet had met the benchmark of having a "well-founded fear of persecution" based on race, political or religious beliefs or membership in a group.

Both Hadayet and his wife, Hala Sadek el Awadly, 42, come from prominent families well ensconced in the Muslim mainstream in Egypt, according to a relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Hadayet's father is a former general and El Awadly's father is a clothing merchant who owns factories and shops in downtown Cairo, the relative said.

While appealing his asylum case in federal immigration court, Hadayet got lucky--his wife was among 55,000 annual winners in a so-called "diversity" visa lottery through which the INS grants residency to immigrants from countries it considers underrepresented by immigration rules and practices.

Hadayet quickly won approval to legalize his status in 1997, as the husband of a newly named legal resident.

INS authorities now believe that fraud was involved somewhere along the trail of applications, visas and court cases Hadayet filed, according to a government source.

Hadayet indicated he had gone to work within months after arriving in the U.S. in 1992. When he applied for a job with A-AAA Yellow Cab in Santa Ana, in September 1996--using the last name Ali--he told company officials he had been working for a rival Yellow Cab company based in Anaheim since 1992.

About the same time he obtained permanent residency and work permission in 1997, Hadayet started a limousine company, Five-Star Limousine. The insurance and state permit for that business were canceled last year.

Those who knew Hadayet said that if he was struggling in business, he kept it to himself.

Tarek Oraby, an Egyptian immigrant taxi driver, recalled last seeing his colleague five months ago driving a leased black Mercedes limousine into John Wayne Airport to pick up a fare.

"He said, 'Let me show you my new car,' " Oraby said. The two talked for 10 minutes before Oraby left to pick up a customer, and he never saw Hadayet again.

With Hadayet dead, and his role in the LAX shooting clearly established, authorities are focusing, not on guilt but on the gunman's motives and whether he was affiliated with any organized terrorist network. Answers so far have been sparse.

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