LOS ANGELES, July 8 (JTA) — Last week’s attack at the Los Angeles International Airport that killed two Israelis had an added tragic dimension — one of the victims was slated to receive a marriage proposal the next day. Victoria Hen’s parents revealed that they had planned a surprise party for last Friday, at which Hen’s fiance would formally ask for her hand in marriage. Instead her parents, Avinoam and Rachel Hen, and her younger brothers, Nimrod and Udi, spent the day planning Victoria’s funeral service, which took place Sunday afternoon. Hen, 25, an El Al ticket agent, and Yaakov Aminov, 46, were gunned down July 4 by Egyptian national Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41. So far, U.S. authorities have been cautious about characterizing the attack as anything but a shooting carried out by an individual, though Israeli officials say the attack resembles previous acts of terrorism against El Al and Jewish targets. Coming as it did on July 4, and against Israelis and Jews, the attack looks and feels like terrorism, Israeli officials said. “From the way the attack was conducted, the way the gunman skipped dozens of other foreign airline counters to target El Al, our experience tells us it is terrorism,” Yuval Rotem, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, told JTA. His view was immediately backed by senior Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Transportation Minister Efraim Sneh. American authorities have taken a more cautious view, initially describing the shooting as an “isolated incident.” At a news conference the day after the attack, FBI special agent Richard Garcia took a slight step toward the Israeli interpretation by acknowledging that Hadayet apparently went to the airport with the intention of killing people. As to his motives, “We are not ruling out a hate crime,” Garcia said. “We are not ruling out terrorism completely and we are not ruling out” that the attack “may be a random act of violence.” This portrait was subsequently altered by Abdul Zahab, who had worked for a limousine service operated by Hadayet and told The New York Times that his former boss was virulently anti-Israel. Hadayet, who had settled in the United States in 1992, asserted that the “Israelis tried to destroy the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian population by sending prostitutes with AIDS to Egypt,” Zahab said. Whatever the semantic wrangling, the pain for the families and friends of the two victims is palpable. Sunday morning, hundreds of mourners filled the parking lot in front of Yad Avraham, a Sephardic congregation in North Hollywood, Calif., to hear Aminov eulogized as a man of rare kindness, generosity, honesty and devotion to his family and Judaism. Facing the tallit-draped casket of the 46-year old owner of a jewelry distribution company, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn mourned “the tragic loss that has left a void in the Los Angeles community and each of us.” Cries and sobs punctuated the eulogies by some 10 rabbis, who, speaking mainly in Hebrew, asked why so good a man as “Reb Yaacov,” whose family roots are in Central Asia, had been murdered. “How can it be,” said Rabbi Aron Tendler, “that this righteous man was taken, that a mother of five sits alone, that he will no longer make kiddush on Friday night?” Tears flowed when Michael Shabtai, the friend whom Aminov, in a typical gesture, had offered to drive to the airport for a flight to Israel, recounted Aminov’s last moments. Condolences were sent by President Bush and California Gov. Gray Davis. A long procession of cars accompanied Aminov’s casket to the same airport, and past the same El Al check-in counter where he was slain three days earlier, for the flight to Israel, where he will be buried. A fund has been established to support Aminov’s pregnant wife, Anat, and their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 9. In the afternoon, some 250 mourners crammed into the chapel at the Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, Calif., and an equal number listened outside during the funeral service for Hen. Hen had been on the El Al job for only two months, greeting and assisting passengers flying business class. “Vicky had a talent to take care of people and problems with a smile,” said Michael Mayer, El Al general manager for North America. Flower-carrying El Al stewardesses, some weeping, stood outside the full chapel. The daughter of a family whose roots in the historical Israeli city of Safed go back some 700 years, Hen was eulogized by Rabbi Samuel Ohana as a woman who sanctified God’s name by her presence and in joyfully fulfilling her duties. In addition to the two deaths, Sarah Philips, a 61-year-old Canadian, was shot in the right ankle during the attack and underwent surgery at a local hospital. FBI officials said Hadayet was carrying a 45-caliber semiautomatic Glock pistol, a 9-millimeter handgun and a 6-inch knife. When police searched his apartment after the attack, they found a sign taped to his door saying, “Read the Koran.” According to several reports, Hadayet pulled out a gun, shot Hen, then began firing at 80 to 90 people who were waiting in line for El Al’s single outbound flight, to Toronto and ultimately to Tel Aviv. The bystanders immediately threw themselves to the floor, but Hadayet hit Aminov. As Hadayet began shooting, an El Al security guard reportedly tackled him to the ground, trying to wrestle the gun away. Hadayet, who is said to have been powerfully built, around 5-foot-10 and between 200 and 250 pounds, reportedly struggled, and pistol-whipped the security guard in the forehead. El Al’s security chief, Haim Sapir, then reportedly jumped over the El Al ticket counter, and also tried to stop Hadayet, who stabbed him in the back. Sapir then shot Hadayet, killing him, according to Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, Zvi Vapni. Hadayet, who settled in the United States in 1992, may have had links to Osama Bin-Laden’s top aide, according to an Arabic-language newspaper. The London-based Al-Hayat reported Sunday that authorities were investigating whether Hadayet met with Ayman Zawahiri in the United States in 1995 and 1998. Contributions for Yaakov Aminov can be sent to the Aminov Fund, Yad Avraham, 12426 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, Calif. 91607. A fund to endow a children’s library in Victoria Hen’s name has been created. Contributions can be sent to the Vicky Hen Memorial Fund, 23277 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, Calif. 91364.
Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.