LOS ANGELES — An Iranian national who allegedly threatened to “kill all Americans” when he was caught smoking on an international flight was ordered held without bail Friday after a prosecutor argued his actions threatened thousands of lives.
Javid Naghani was not only a threat to the 145 people aboard Air Canada Flight 792 but to thousands of people on the ground in Los Angeles, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Rubinstein told Judge Magistrate Jennifer Lum at a hearing in federal court on Friday afternoon.
Naghani’s attorney, Richard Novak, argued for bail, saying his client is a successful businessman with strong ties to the community, but Lum was not moved. She ordered Naghani to return to court Oct. 15 for a preliminary hearing.
Naghani, a legal resident with an office-cleaning business called Cleaning of America, was traveling with his wife aboard Air Canada 792 to Toronto when authorities say he was caught smoking in the Boeing 767’s bathroom.
When flight attendants confronted him, he said he would “kill all Americans” and said he belonged to some sort of unspecified group, according to a criminal complaint filed against him Friday. Naghani also accused the staff of being racist and said, “You do not know who I am,” attendants told an FBI agent.
“His words are how this court should judge Mr. Naghani’s actions. Those words were spoken to convey a threat and they certainly did,” Rubinstein told the judge. “He was risking the lives of everybody on that plane and also the citizens of Los Angeles that were on the ground.”
Novak said Naghani is a successful businessman and property owner but also a person who has a drinking problem, adding that may have contributed to the confrontation aboard the plane. He said several government buildings are among those serviced by his cleaning business.
In arguing against bail, Rubinstein said Naghani has also had previous brushes with the law, including a conviction for reckless driving in 1988 and one for possession of a dangerous weapon, a dagger, in 1995. He didn’t elaborate.
The defendant, dressed in shorts and an untucked, button-downed shirt, tried to interrupt the hearing at one point, telling the judge the allegations were false.
“I didn’t say those words, I swear to my mother,” he said.
After Naghani allegedly made his threat, the pilot turned the jet around and two U.S. fighter planes escorted it back to Los Angeles International Airport less than an hour after departure. Authorities took Naghani into custody and most of the flight’s passengers eventually made it to Toronto on Friday morning.
Flight attendants told the captain “they were intimidated, fearful and unwilling to deal with Naghani, and that Naghani needed to be removed from the aircraft,” FBI agent David Beall said.
Naghani’s wife, Rose Hinojos, told a flight attendant her husband had been drinking wine before the confrontation. She told The Associated Press Thursday night she did not see him smoking.
Hinojos also denounced the authorities, saying they treated her and Naghani like terrorists.
“I was handcuffed all over like I am a terrorist,” said Hinojos, who was released after questioning. “This is not the way to treat residents. This is the United States. My husband and I are not terrorists.
“My husband is the kindest person I have ever met,” Hinojos said, adding that Naghani, a businessman, “treats his employees very well.”
A neighbor described Naghani on Friday as a boisterous chain smoker with a penchant for hard liquor and a “good heart.”
Helene Apper, who has lived near Naghani for five years, said he was nervous about flying in the wake of the East Coast terrorist attacks. Apper suggested Naghani likely had too much to drink out of nervousness, but was not someone who would actually carry through on violent threats.
“He loved America and the freedoms it gave him,” she said.