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Those Who Knew LAX Killer Say Personal Agenda Died With Him

July 14, 2002|ROBYN DIXON, JACK LEONARD and RICH CONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A decade ago, Hesham Hadayet left behind a comfortable life and upper-class family in Egypt, gambling that a six-month tourist visa was his ticket to prosperity, American-style.

From the beginning, Hadayet took chances--first as a cab driver and later with his own business. He worked illegally. He overstayed the visa and applied for asylum. He bought a limousine he didn't know how to drive.

"He told me how he landed at LAX" to begin his new life, recalled acquaintance Bob Milstead. "He took a cab, and it was expensive, and he thought, 'Wow! I'm going to get into this. You can make a lot of money.' "

For a while, luck seemed to be with him. He avoided deportation when his wife won a lottery for permanent residency. He worked up to a two-limousine service and hired help. He lived with his wife and two sons in Irvine, the classic Southern California suburb. He was known as a quiet, observant Muslim who wanted people to believe he was running a successful business.

Despite the long hours, success was elusive. In recent months, Hadayet's business teetered on the edge of collapse. He couldn't keep up with his liability insurance and his wife began asking neighbors for baby-sitting work.

For all of that, Hadayet did little to suggest he might some day walk up to a Los Angeles International Airport ticket counter and start shooting people.

Yet that's just what he did on the Fourth of July. Authorities say Hadayet killed El Al ticket agent Victoria Hen, 25, of Chatsworth and Yaakov Aminov, 46, of Valley Village before he was killed by an El Al security guard.

"We all thought it was someone else and they blamed it on Hesham," said Tarek Oraby, 35, a Cairo native and former cab driver living in Garden Grove. "Nobody believes it .... People are asking, did he go crazy?"

In interviews with dozens of neighbors, business acquaintances and family members in Southern California and Cairo, the emerging consensus is that Hadayet was an ordinarily religious man with little appetite for politics, who opened fire at the El Al Israel Airlines ticket counter following a personal agenda that died with him.

"If someone is going to do a terrorist act, they wouldn't park their car, then walk minutes to a terminal and then stand in line before they shoot someone," said Medhat Mahmoud, a Los Angeles produce wholesaler and a former security official for Egypt Air who had known Hadayet since 1992. "It's ridiculous."

As investigators begin to believe that Hadayet was simply an overstressed man who snapped, Hadayet's family refuses to accept any conclusion beyond the fact that Hadayet is dead.

Family Awaits Outcome

"All I want to know is: What will be the outcome of the investigation?" Hadayet's widow, Hala Mohammed Sadeq al Awadly, said in Cairo, where she and the couple's young sons have been vacationing since mid-June. "And from the investigation we should know exactly what happened and then we will know what the truth is."

Born in Egypt on July 4, 1961, Hadayet grew up in a politically and religiously moderate family in Cairo's middle-class Abbasiya neighborhood, where he attended the private St. George's School before earning a degree in commerce from Cairo's Ain Shams University in 1984.

The son and nephew of Egyptian military brass, Hadayet was exempted from military service as his family's only son and embarked on a promising career at the Misr Iran Bank. By 30, he was chief of the securities and credit division, a job that usually goes to men in their mid-40s and older, relatives said.

Given that success, why he chose to move to the United States is unclear. One American acquaintance said Hadayet suggested his tenure at the bank ended badly. "He had to leave Egypt because he was in trouble there for some accounting thing he did," said Milstead, who runs the Newport Beach-based limo service, Executive Transportation. "He said he was framed."

Hadayet's family denied he had a problem with the bank, and said his emigration grew from a years-long yearning to live in America. He first visited on a tourist visa in 1981, and signed up for a Social Security card at the agency's Wilshire Boulevard office even though his visa did not allow him to work.

"Since he was 13 or 14 he wanted to go to America," said Emad al Abd, 45, a cousin in Cairo. "He used to say, 'It's a beautiful country.' He was like any young man, dreaming of a good life in the States."

Hadayet met his future wife at the bank. Awadly's father owned a clothing business and she regularly deposited checks for the company.

The couple complemented each other. Where Hadayet was quiet, calm and serious, Awadly was outgoing and talkative. About 1985, the couple married and moved in with her parents in a seventh-floor apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Cairo as they awaited construction of an apartment Hadayet had bought elsewhere in the city.

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