Feds: Man at L.A. airport had weapons, smoke grenade
LOS ANGELES — A man arrested at Los Angeles International Airport wearing a bulletproof vest and flame-resistant pants is not cooperating with federal officials working to discover why he was headed to Boston with a suitcase full of weapons, authorities say.
Yongda Huang Harris, 28, was taken into custody recently during a stopover on a trip from Japan when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers reported noticing he was wearing the protective gear under his trench coat, triggering a Homeland Security investigation.
A search of Harris' checked luggage uncovered numerous suspicious items, including a smoke grenade, knives, body bags, a hatchet, a collapsible baton, a biohazard suit, a gas mask, billy clubs, handcuffs, leg irons and a device to repel dogs, authorities said.
Harris has not cooperated with authorities attempting to interview him, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an open investigation Tuesday.
The official said Harris, who was taken into custody Friday, is not believed to be linked to a terrorist organization. His motive, however, has not been determined, the official said.
Harris has been charged with one count of transporting hazardous materials, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He made a brief court appearance Tuesday, but his arraignment was delayed until Friday and he was ordered held until then.
Harris is a U.S. citizen whose permanent residence is in Boston, though he recently started living and working in Japan, officials said. Attempts to reach Harris' family in Boston and his associates were unsuccessful.
His attorney, Steven Seiden, was unavailable to comment, said Chris Williams, a spokesman for Seiden, who also represents Mark Basseley Youssef, the man behind the anti-Islam video that recently sparked violence in the Middle East.
It's unclear what Harris had on his body and what he had checked in baggage, which will be crucial information to the defense, said Williams, who declined to comment on why Harris was carrying any of the weapons.
“It raises a lot of questions, and those questions will need to be answered. Right now, the case is very early,” Williams said.
The defense attorney's spokesman described Harris as “very intelligent,” earning A's in high school and college calculus.
The smoke grenade was X-rayed by police bomb squad officers, who said the device fell into a category that is prohibited on board passenger aircraft.
Such a grenade “could potentially fill the cabin of a commercial airplane with smoke or cause a fire,” federal officials said in a news release.
Many of the other items authorities say they found in Harris' luggage — including the hatchet and knives — wouldn't violate Transportation Security Administration guidelines for what is permissible in luggage that is checked. Also, bulletproof vests and flame-resistant pants are not listed among items prohibited aboard flights.
However, customs officers Kenny Frick and Brandon Parker believed in their initial investigation that the lead-filled, leather-coated billy clubs and a collapsible baton may be prohibited by California law, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
A customs official said Tuesday night that Harris was not enrolled in any of the U.S. government's trusted traveler programs, which could have allowed faster processing through security or customs. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the ongoing investigation.
Harris traveled from Kansai, in western Japan, to Incheon, Korea, before landing in Los Angeles.
An immigration officer at Kansai International Airport, Masahiro Nakamoto, said authorities did not report anything suspicious at the time Harris boarded. Spokesman Keisuke Hamatani said Kansai security officials had not reported any suitcases containing the hazardous materials U.S. authorities say they found in Harris' luggage.
Nakamoto said arriving passengers are checked more closely than those leaving the country.
Yasunori Oshima, an official at Japan's Land and Transport Ministry's aviation safety department, said there had been no official inquiry or request from U.S. authorities to look into the case, which he said would have been more of a concern if the hazardous materials were brought on board rather than checked.
“The case does not seem to pose any immediate concerns about aviation security measures in Japan,” he said.
Airport police said they do not believe the case constitutes illegal conduct under the Japanese domestic criminal code, but Japan may cooperate at the request of U.S. investigators.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Agent: Polamalu undecided whether to play in 2015
- Toddler found wandering alone in Bloomfield, grandmother arrested
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is planning a summer to remember
- Pitt instructor witnesses history in China’s ‘Wasteland’
- Nonstop flights offered to Bahamas from Pittsburgh
- Reports: Actor Ford seriously injured in small-plane crash in L.A.
- Mt. Lebanon deer-culling corrals sprayed with urine, repellent
- Stocks snap losing streak as ECB reveals stimulus start date
- Starkey: In defense of Mel Kiper Jr.
- Spring training breakdown: Yankees 2, Pirates 1
- Pitt women make early exit from ACC tourney