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TSA security questions raised after arrest, LAX threat

Nna Alpha Onuoha, 29, appears before a judge on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in this courtroom sketch.
September 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Questions are being raised about the screening process for the TSA after a former TSA worker was arrested for making threats against LAX.

Nna Alpha Onuoha, 29, was charged with two federal counts of making threats to terminals at LAX. He made a brief appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon, where the judge ordered him to return on Monday afternoon for a bond hearing.

Investigators say the tone of Onuoha's threats was ominous.

"In those calls, he told them they needed to evacuate certain terminals within the airport. He told them they were running out of time. He told them he was watching them, and he told them he was going to send a message to America," said FBI special agent David Bowdich.

Authorities say Onuoha worked as a screener for the TSA since 2006. TSA spokesman Nico Melendez says that the hiring process is mandated by Congress, and applicants have to be a U.S. citizen, have a high school diploma, speak English, pass a medical and drug screening and a 10-year background check.

In this case, it appears Onuoha, a naturalized citizen from Nigeria, passed all the tests.

"Beyond that, you can't really tell what somebody might do in the future," Melendez said. "One individual does what he does. It's not indicative of the rest of the agency."

TSA officials stress that the screening process is a good one, and that there was no indication of any problems with the suspect until this week.

Onuoha had recently been placed on suspension because he ordered a 15-year-old girl to cover up, suggesting she was dressed inappropriately, according to law enforcement sources. Then on Tuesday, he resigned and left a package at the TSA headquarters at LAX addressed to an employee. TSA officials immediately contacted the FBI.

The package was treated as suspicious, but it turned out to be an eight-page letter. The document was titled, "The End of America, the End of Satan, we were not defeated."

A number of packages believed to be sent from Onuoha had the bomb squad scrambling on Wednesday. A suspicious package was found at Onuoha's apartment building in the 700 block of Hindry Avenue. According to Inglewood police, the package was addressed to his former VA counselor, Eddie Royal, who works at the building. After a thorough inspection, investigators determined the package was not an explosive device.

Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, the TSA office on the 5700 block of Century Boulevard was evacuated after officials there received a suspicious package. A law enforcement source said the package was from Onuoha and contained "miscellaneous papers."

On his website, Onuoha had several statements with religious overtones. One statement said: "Do not expect another 9/11. What will unfold on this day and on the days ahead will be greater than 9/11; the day that America, satan, and their allies come together to celebrate and revere."

According to court documents, he told authorities he just wanted to preach the word of God.

If convicted, Onuoha faces up to 15 years in federal prison, plus fines and penalties.


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